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Figure Head

It was in the time when our town built wooden ships for the world’s seas, and there was a dollar in every pocket. The old men said Albert Dangley was the finest wood-carver in the province. In a town of ship-carpenters, each with a hand for fine work when he chose, that is saying something. His father was lost in the barque Warema in 1848, and at fifteen Albert was apprenticed to a ship-builder in Malton. Each morning he rowed across the mile of water to work, and each evening returned to Cow Cove, where the silent tragic woman, his mother, kept the lonely wooden house. He was a lanky boy, with the bemused gait of an ox-teamster, with a yellow lick of hair always hanging over one eye, and his eyes a pale blue with something mysterious forever staring at something far and beautiful. He was gifted with tools. “Touched”, folk said for he could do things with wood that seemed uncanny as if he had turned the hard fibre to clay and moulded it. It was not long before Will MacDonald, at the shipyard, put him on fine work, scrolls, mouldings, and such-like.

One fine Sunday, driving around the harbour past Cow Cove in his shining gig, big Alexander Dawson saw him at work in a shed by the house. He pulled up at once, for he was a pious man, was Dawson, and already something of a feudal lord in Malton, and here was young Albert breaking the Sabbath. But when Dawson saw the work, he changed his text. Albert was putting the finishing touches to a human figure in wood, and on a bench sat his model, a sleepy negro from the back street of Malton, stripped to the waist, the afternoon sunshine pouring past the dusty windows to shine on the smooth black skin. Figure and model were one. Albert had even worked into those wooden features the bored expression of the sitter. It wasn’t canny, Dawson said; but he offered Albert a job in his yard, and Albert refused.

When he was twenty, Albert Dangley, gave up work in Malton and returned to Cow Cove–for good, announcing that he would do wood-carving by the job. People thought it queer to drive all the way around the harbour, or row a mile in a boat, to consult a wood-carver, at a time when wood-carvers grew on every bush. But they brought him their work. You can see some of that work in Malton to this day; the fine mahogany lectern, the oak pulpit with its elaborately figured canopy, and the pew ends, in our small church of Saint Matthias on the hill; the wardens’ chairs in the Masonic lodge the painted pine statue of Captain Red Hugh Tarrel which stands in the hall of the old Tarrel house, and scares child-visitors out of their wits and here and there in attics and barns a bit of scroll work, carefully stowed out of harms way “because ’twas made by Albert Dangley in the old time.” But Albert Dangley’s best work is lost and gone. For fifteen years he made figureheads for ships that came out of Malton yards and vanished over the horizon, never to return. He made the last when he was thirty five, at the height of his powers, and the Reverend Neal Thompson calling him a “Michael Angelo in wood.” That was in 1868, the year which brought a sudden end to Malton’s golden age.

In the spring of that year, on a fine April afternoon, lean Alexander Dawson drove to Cow Cove with his wife and daughter. They were in the phaeton, drawn by Dawson’s bays, famous the country round; and young Shaddock Watkins, seventeen, Dawson’s stable-boy, was at the reins. The winter’s snow was still hanging on in the shade of the woods, but the dirt road was bare, and the frost coming out of it. The carriage wheels whirled in mud. The sun shone and it was warm. The brooks were bank high. In the shore fields, where the people had spread their fish-compost ready for spring ploughing, the scavenging flocks of herring gulls rose and settled in raucous white clouds.

Cow Cove was a nick in the steep east shore, surrounded by thick second-growth spruce and fir, except the small knoll where the Dangley house stood. Only small boats could use it, for the great rock we call the Cow sits in the narrow mouth of it, and others are beyond, showing only at low tide, which sailormen call The Calves. Young Shad pulled up outside Albert Bangley’s workshop and jumped down to the horse’s heads, and Dawson got out. Mrs. Dawson, plump and caustic and fifty-two, called after him, “Mind, there’s to be no more posin’ an’ modelin’ than can be helped.” Sandy Dawson nodded. He had a gaunt Scots face with bushy pepper-and-salt side-whiskers, and grey twinkling eyes that could see a dollar a mile away. He ran the busiest shipyard in the county, and operated four big barques in the timber trade to Britain, and owned a third of the Malton Banking Company; but when Lizzie Dawson spoke, he listened.

Albert was at a carving for the stem of one of the Anderson schooners, absorbed as usual, and Dawson had to give him a thump on the shoulder for attention. Twenty years had not changed Albert much; the lean gawky figure, the lustreless yellow hair, the day-dreaming eyes were those of the boy Dawson had found carving the wooden negro.

“Albert”, said Sandy Dawson, “I’ve a commission for ye. You’ve seen the barque I’m buildin’?”

Albert nodded slowly, and the yellow lock swung. Everybody knew the barque Dawson was building. Not the biggest, she was certainly the finest vessel ever to come out of a Malton yard, a-building since early in ’67, and to be launched in September. “I’m namin’ her after my daughter; and for the figurehead I want ye to model Kate herself. Ye can set your own price.”

“I never modelled a woman,” Albert muttered. He had made Indian chiefs (modelled mostly from old Noel Knock Wood, who lived by the salt marsh with his squaw) and rajahs and African princes from Malton negroes, and Melville merchants from their important selves, stiff in Sunday cloth; and he had made females by copying one or two of the old figureheads lying about Malton wharves; but he had never modelled a woman alive, and the eyes he turned to Sandy were bleak with refusal. He had shunned women all his life.

Dawson did not let him get as far as No. He was quick and shrewd, was Dawson. “Kate’s out in the carriage now. Take a few measurements an’ make a sketch, can’t ye? No need o’ modelin’, man. Look–this is the finest vessel that ever came out o’ Malton. Mebbe the last, shippin’ the way it is. There’s no wood-carver like you in the world, Albert. Will ye stand by an’ see a foreigner from outside do her figurehead? Would have have my ship followin’ a bit of foreign work about the sea?”

Albert shuffled, and turned the chisel over and over in his hands, avoiding Dawson’s bright compelling eye. When Kate came in she saw him standing at his bench, clutching the chipped edge with his long hands behind him, as if for support. She was a lovely girl with Dawson’s nose and eyes and her mother’s brown hair, and when she smiled there was a dimple in one cheek and her teeth had a moist and white shine. She had a figure to hold a sculptor’s eye, even in hoops and four petticoats. She went up to Albert and put out her hand, smiling and Albert gasped–and surrendered. The sketch could be done in two or three sittings, he said.

After four or five sittings he announced in his flat monotonous voice, and looking up at the dusty rafters, that she must come more often. She must come at least twice a week until the figurehead was finished. There were things that couldn’t be set on paper, that must be carved into the wood, he said. This news made Lizzie Dawson sniff. She had a fanatic worship of respectability that a later generation knew as Victorian. So with a generalship no less Victorian she saw that Kate had an escort on her visits to Cow Cove, this was the son of John Thorpe, manager of the Malton Banking Company. Roy Thorpe was five-and-twenty, with black hair and curly black side-whiskers and fun-warmed brown eyes. He had been away to college without learning enough to dull his good humour, and now he was learning the banking business, but he spent most of his time driving a smart gig about Malton’s streets in summer, and in winter, was the life of Malton’s drawing rooms. In those days the small town banker had a social rating beyond that of princes. Roy Thorpe was the most eligible young man in town.

On the first journey to Albert Dangley’s shed, Roy sat on one of the carpenter’s benches, smoking cigars and talking easily while Kate posed and Albert busied himself with pencil and calipers. the wood-carver was irritated and nervous, Kate made her escort wait outside after that, and he sat, bored, in the gig, looking down on Cow Cove from the rise of the harbour road, and watching the shipping across the water at Malton wharves.

On a thundery July afternoon, with a mass of piled white cloud, black-tipped, moving restlessly about the horizon and the sea shimmering in the heat, while Kate sat in the shed under Albert’s blue eye, and Roy in the seat of the gig, on one of those days the directors of the Malton Banking Company held a meeting. The bank was a single storey wooden building on Main Street, next to the Lord Raglan Hotel, with a false front for height and dignity, and a flagstaff on the flat roof. Upon that flagstaff, every morning, one of the clerks hoisted the old flag of the province, the blue St. Andrew’s cross on the white field, made by the directors’ womenfolk; Nova Scotia had entered into a confederation with the other Canadian provinces the year before, under promise of a subsidy, and Maltonians, figuring it out, declared they had been sold into bondage “for forty cents a head–the price of a sheep skin”. Shipping towns took their politics seriously in those days.

Standing outside the bank, you could look under the arching elms to the point where main street curved by the Dawson house. The Street ran close by the harbour there, with Dawson’s humming shipyard on one side and Dawson’s mansion sitting white and square on the other, sheltered by old and mighty trees. The bowsprit of the new barque was stood over the street, so that teams drove underneath, and the flying jib-boom reached high over Dawson’s fence into the shade of Dawson’s elms. Dawson was launching her fully rigged. Her masts were of southern pine, the only wood in the ship that had not come out of the local forest. Men were busy with palm and needle in Miller’s sail loft, in Castor’s, in Hewlett’s, making two complete suits of sails for her. McHarg the blockmaker had fashioned her blocks and dead-eyes; and all her ironwork was coming from Pell’s foundry, on the lane running up the hill, where only a pasture is now.

The men in the directors’ room were talking of those things. Merchants and shipbuilders and ship owners, with a finger in every Malton pie, and both thumbs in the Malton Banking Company. They sat about the long table, perspiring in the heat, under wood-panelled walls hung with pictures of Malton ships, painted in ports half over the world; men with fine homes along the shady end of Main Street–Dawson, Enslow, Pakenham, Millock, Finucane–the merchant aristocracy of the time long gone. Some of the houses are summer hotels now, and strangers live in all. The men in the bank were holding a wake, but they did not know it, even then. John Thorpe was speaking. A heavily built man, with an indoor face rigid and, grey with the mouth of a man who had made up his mind to something unpleasant and will have it out, hell or high water.

“You’ve gone against my advice on our last three loans. On this, you’ve not even asked it. But I’ll tell you, asked or not, that the bank can’t loan another dollar to Mr. Dawson on this new barque–or any other–at the present time.”

“A temporary drop in ocean freights. Och, man!” Dawson cried out, rolling his r’s like musketry.

“We’ve had hard times in the shipping trade before.” Said Enslow.

“And, weathered ’em,” declared Millock, with a pull at his whiskers.

“Not like this” John Thorpe said. “You’ve not seen hard times yet. Or you’ve forgot what times were like, fifteen or twenty years back.”

“Ah, that!” snapped the handsome red-faced white-haired man Finucane. “No significance today. None.”

“I wish to God I could feel so sure,” said Thorpe. “This bank began business in ’54, the year of the war in the Crimea, and the British government buying and chartering every ship it could find. That lasted till ’56. In ’57, came the big mutiny in India, with troops and supplies to be carried around the Cape, and sustained there through a campaign. After that, shipping dropped a bit, working down towards a normal level, if you want the truth. But then came the war across the border, the war between the States, and for five years shipping and shipbuilding climbed to the skies. At the war’s end it dropped like a stone. We haven’t seen bottom yet. I’ll tell you why. Out of the American war have come a lot of fast steamers, built for blockade running, and on the trade routes now. They make quick runs from port to port. They can give a definite sailing date–no waiting for winds; they can give a date for arrival and hit it close. They’re getting all the freight they can handle–and more being built.”

“You’re not suggesting steamers will ever replace sail?” chuckled Enslow.

“I suggest we’ve been living in a fool’s paradise, and I tell you the bank’s in deep water as a result. All our funds in local ships and shipyards and the like. They’ve been losing money hand over fist since ’65–even Mister Dawson–”

“That’s a lie!” Dawson roared.

Icily Thorpe said, “It’s what you’ve told me, whenever I asked for a payment on the old loan.”

“I’ve paid my interest,” Sandy Dawson said virtuously. “On the date. Every cent.”

“Yes. Some of you haven’t even done that. You say ‘After all, I’m a shareholder’–as if that made everything right. That’s the worst of a bank like ours–all eggs in one basket. Well, I say it’s time to face the truth.”

The voices broke out in a storm, with John Thorpe in the midst like the Cow Rock in a south-easter. The directors were all active in shipping and shipbuilding, but much of the bank stock was held by retired merchants and captains or their easygoing heirs. All of Thorpe’s own savings were in the bank. He saw the thing as a monster suddenly determined to devour the food. But the men in the room over-ruled him, shouted him down, as if the heat of the July day had got into their blood. Lean Sandy Dawson’s loan was put to a vote and passed–$40,000 to finish the barque and pay debts already incurred in the building. Thorpe went home with a look of death on his face. Dawson never spoke to him again; and Kate was forbidden to see his son.

The figurehead was finished in August. There was some debate about the figure part of it, Dawson wanting the customary flowing robes and Lizzie saying sharply she would have “no image of Kate naked in a wet sheet put up where men could see”. Red Hugh Tarrel settled the matter. People called him that to mark him from Black Hugh his cousin. He was the best of Dawson’s captains, chosen for the new barque. “Don’t give us a wumman wi’ clo’es an’ hair blowin’ aft, as if we’d an everlastin’ head wind,” growled Red Hugh Tarrel. So Albert modeled Kate in the little jacket and bodice she favoured that summer, with the outward sweep of hip and hoops melting away into the line of the stem-head, every fold, every hair in order, as if there were to be no winds in her life, fair or foul.

Kate liked to watch Albert at work. He had made most of his tools himself, nearly a hundred; chisels of many widths, some short, some long, some with straight shanks, some with shanks bent for difficult places; and gouges whose edges ran all the way from a deep U to an edge that seemed straight to the unknowing eye. These he kept sharp with a variety of special stones. For blocking out he struck the tool with a mallet that looked like a swollen potato masher; but after that he struck the butt of chisel or gouge with the hard palm of his right hand. The tools for immediate use were always laid out on a strip of baize, with their glittering edges towards him, and it was fascinating to see his slim clever fingers going out to pick one up, swiftly, exactly, as if there were eyes in their tips, or a brain that knew which was wanted. Albert never looked. His strange eyes were always on the wood, with swift under-glances at Kate.

The wood was a balk of English elm, specially imported by a home-bound Dawson ship. White pine was usual, being easily worked and durable and taking paint well; but Dawson would have nothing so common for the vessel that all Malton was now calling The Kate.

At first, she tried to get Albert to talk. But he could not work under such a handicap. So she talked, to pass the time, and because it amused her, the belle of the county, to prattle her prettiest and get no response. And one day, after some touches with a fine tool held in the very tips of his fingers, he laid the thing down very carefully and said, without looking up, “It’s finished.”

“It’s much better-looking than I am,” said candid Kate.

“It is you,” he answered quietly. “When the wood came I saw you alive in the heart of it. I have set you free, that is all.”

“It’s beautiful,” Kate said, standing before it.

“I can’t bear them take it away,” Albert said dully.


“Because you’ll go with it. Because you’re so beautiful, and your voice is like water running in the woods in April.”

“Why, Albert,” she said laughing, “how nice of you to say that.” And suddenly Albert was on his knees in the chips and shavings, pressing her skirt to his cheek and weeping that he loved her. Her face went scarlet. She had a notion to call out for young Shad Watkins, sitting in the gig outside.

“Albert,” Kate said sharply, “don’t be so silly. Albert–Albert Dangley.” When she said “silly” he got on his feet and stood very straight. A passion burned in his pale blue eyes where there had never been anything but a dream, and it was startling, like seeing a face in the window of a house long empty.

“You say ‘silly’! But you are going to marry that young loafer who knows nothing but horses, and stinks of cigars–that Thorpe!”

“I’m not,” very coldly. “And it’s none of your business. Now, let me pass, please.”

He moved aside, dragging his old worn boots, as if very tired of a sudden, and when she reached the door he called out to her.
“Ah, that Thorpe! No good! None of them! They live by the work of people like me–them and their great houses and fine horses, and the daughters of honest shipwrights waiting on their tables–ah!” She was going out head in air. “It’s rotten. Rotten! Rotten! All of it! You’ll see!”

Kate paused. “I’ll see–what?” Curiously.

“The rot–the rot! I don’t know.” He was whining like a beaten boy, but with that bewitched look on his face.” Like a stump in the woods, that looks sound, and goes to dust at a kick. “I see it like that. And you down on your knees somehow–with your face to me, fresh and beautiful. On your knees to silly Albert. You! It makes me cry!”

“You make me laugh,” snapped Kate, and laughed to prove it.

“When you come to me on your knees,” Albert said, “I shall laugh.” He screamed after her, “I shall laugh then! You hear?”
But she did not hear. She was stepping into the gig and telling young Shad to make a fast pace for Malton, and when Albert reached the door he saw nothing but her parasol floating away over the brown dust from the wheels. He looked towards the house then and saw his mother’s white face in the window. They stared at each other.

The launching was a gala affair. Soon after daylight people began to arrive in buggies and wagons from the country, and before noon all the stables were full, and the hitching racks outside the stores on Main Street; and in the vacant lots behind the Lord Raglan Hotel and Murphy’s bakery the horses were tethered in rows, with a bounty of hay strewn all about their feet. There was no work in the shipyards and stores, there was silence in the sail lofts and rigging lofts, no smoke in the foundry chimney. Main Street was a mass of people in Sunday clothes, wandering up and down, talking excitedly, calling out to each other in passing. The shadows of trees crept in towards their trunks, as if for shelter from the noon sun. It was a hot still September day, and the wandering boots on the town’s plank sidewalks sent up a dull sound of thunder. But there was no cloud in the high blue sky. The green of the lawns and shrubs were jaded after the summer drought. Half the wells of the town had gone dry. The dust of the street had caked on the shop fronts and on the neat picket fences that guarded the big houses past Dawson’s yard, and the clothes of the country people were grey with the dust of the roads.

All the ship-carpenters were out with their families, and the caulkers and riggers, the shop-clerks and stevedores, the loafers, the crews of ships in port; fishermen from Entry Cove and Deep Cove and the little boat stagings that clustered under the ramparts of East Head; hands from the sawmills at Grenville, and farmers and lumberjacks from all the country around.

And the object of all eyes was the beautiful thing in Dawson’s yard, a-flutter with bunting from stem to stern by way of the mastheads. She looked immense aloft, for she carried three royals and the wide yards went up like steps to heaven, and the hull was slim below. She dwarfed the tall trees of Main Street, and the glitter of her paint and varnish made a shabbiness all about her–the littered yard, the sheds and warehouses with their unpainted sun-curled shingles, the thick dust of Main Street, yes, and the dusty hot-faced people in Sunday clothes now gathering like sea under her forefoot. The launching platform was set up, and draped in bunting, and there was a white sheet over the figurehead that all Malton was eager to see.

At two o’clock in the afternoon there was a burst of martial music, and the Malton brass band came down from the fire hall, with the red coats and gleaming Enfield muskets of the militia company behind, and the crowd parted to let them through. They formed a square about the launching platform and fixed their long glittering bayonets, as if determined to prevent this monster from following her bowspirit into Dawson’s house. And at that moment the big front door of the Dawson mansion opened, and in decorous pairs, conscious of their worth, and full of sherry and biscuits, forth came, the aristocracy of Malton, a stately procession of stovepipe hats and parasols. They marched out of the Dawson gate in the very shadow of the jib-boom, and took their stations, with much fluttering and hitching about the launching platform, surrounded in their turn by the brave red coats. On the platform stood Sandy and Lizzie and Kate, with a select company, creme de la creme, of Enslows and Finucanes. There were speeches, which everybody heard raptly. Oratory flourished in the small towns in those day. Then rose the clamour of mauls beneth the hull, where under Dan Fordyce’s eye, men were splitting out the keel blocks. On the barque’s deck Red Hugh had gathered a gang of volunteers to attend the anchors and lines, assisted by the usual small boys, who had swarmed aboard the dolphin striker from the road.

At a nod from Fordyce, Dawson touched his daughter’s arm, and Kate stepped up to the dangling bottle of wine. The people cheered. She was in blue silk from bonnet to hems, and people compared her with the ship that was to sail under her name. Both slim and handsome; both a bit over-sparred but none the worse for it. Kate swung the bottle. It gave a gentle bump on the hull and came back. She caught it and swung again. It struck harder but not hard enough. There were loud warning voices below, where the block-splitters were jumping clear, and the hull gave a shudder of life. “Quick!” Dawson snapped and snatched away the shroud from the figurehead. Kate grasped the bottle by the neck and with an unladylike swing brought it hard on the now moving stem. Glass and champagne flew in a shower, but nobody noticed. All eyes were turned in to the towering mast-heads. Would she run away with herself? Would she jam on the ways? Would she topple on her side and ruin the Dawsons, the day and herself in one earth-shaking crash? She did none of these things. She went into the harbour with a swoop, and in a minute there was silence and sunlight where she had been born, and all the people staring at Kate, the flesh-and-blood blue-silk Kate. A chunk of the flying bottle had gashed her hand and blood dripped from her fingers. Gallant old Finucane bound it up with a handkerchief, in a thin babble of female alarm, and Kate was smiling. But the sailors and stevedores shook their heads at an omen.

As the barque took the water there was a great surge, and the planks of the launching ways spewed out underneath, a heaping wet tangle of wood. The gang on the bow let go both anchors and paid out a good length of chain to give her spring to bring up on, and the stern line, passed beforehand to the head of the packed wharf, was now heaved in mightily, to keep her stern off the flats.

Next day she was at McGarry’s wharf, loading deals for England; and that evening young Shad Watkins saw Kate and Roy Thorpe in the warm dusk under the locust trees by the stable. The bandage on Kate’s hand shone white in the murk, and Shad saw Roy lift it to his lips. Their voices were very low, and presently they stood close, and the pale glimmer of their faces became one and Kate’s hat fell to the ground. Shad Watkins preserved that secret more than seventy years. “I was, young then,” he said in his old dry rustling voice. “Seventeen–eighteen, mebbe. Struck me dumb p’raps. Roy Thorpe wasn’t good enough for her, but he loved her I guess; and may the good Lord rest them kindly wherever it was they went. Malton never saw ’em again. The West, some say. A hard life then–and neither had ever done a hand’s turn.”

Sandy Dawson was a thrifty man and never shipped a crew till sailing day, so when the “Katherine M. Dawson” was drawing sixteen feet, and had to be taken over the bar to complete her loading, a gang of Dawson’s longshoremen took her out, under Red Hugh’s tongue and eye. They anchored her opposite Fish Point, and her deck cargo was towed out in rafts by Paddy Mahan’s paddle-wheel tug. With the deck cargo snug in it’s lashing planks and lanyards, and the skipper, the mates and the cook settled in their fine new quarters, Sandy Dawson signed a crew in the old shipping office at the corner of Dock Street and Wentworth Lane. They stopped for a last drink here and there in the little sailors’ rum shops along Dock Street and went off in the tug with their sea-bags and straw-sacks, roaring a ballad of Tress Muldoon’s boarding house that nobody remembers now.

“Sail in the mornin’,” Dawson told Red Hugh, “Not too early. The whole town’ll want to see how she feels her canvas.”

“What about my papers?” Red Hugh said.

“I’ll fix ’em up before breakfast. There’s the insurance, too. All in good time. We’ve had a long day.”

Red Hugh gave him a shrewd glance. Dawson, looked old. Kate’s elopement had hit him in the one place where his heart was soft. Town rumour said Dawson had charged John Thorpe with a hand in it, and there had been high words. Some said Thorpe was discharged by the bank directors, and some that he had resigned. But the man was down with a stroke, complaining of a great weight on his chest, as if the top-heavy bank itself had settled there.

It was a fair September evening when the sun went down, with a light breeze off the blue hills to the west. People worked long in those days and slept soundly. By ten o’clock all Malton was dark and the air still as death. It was like that when John Thorpe died, at two o’clock in the morning, with his wife and Doctor Barnaby at the bedside. At three it was blowing a whole gale from the south-east. It came as quick as that–the famous Line Gale of ’68. The town awoke in a clatter of unfastened shutters and doors, and trees beating the air and loose things blowing about the streets, and rain filling the air like something solid. Women scurried from room to room slamming the windows against the storm. Men pulled on boots and trousers and came running and shouting in little groups along Main Street, past Dawson’s, past the other mansions, heading for Fish Point. South-east the narrow like a gun, with the wind thrusting straight up the barrel. The storm had found the fatal weakness of Malton Harbour and howled its triumph to the hills.

Fish Point was crowded soon with half-dressed men staring north over the water. The barque was riding to both bowers, a shape, a mere presence in the furious dark. They could fancy Red Hugh and his language, caught like that between the storm and the bar. They talked confidently of the new cables, of the good holding ground, of Red Hugh’s famous luck; but mostly they talked of the anchors, made in Pell’s foundry on the hillside, Each was of wrought iron, with shank, crown and flukes in one piece, the shank six feet from shackle to crown, and a span of six feet from fluke to fluke, and each fluke fifteen inches long, with a four inch point. The heavy wooden stock was of yellow birch in two pieces each nine feet long, and bound together with six iron bands to form a solid balk twelve inches through. They weighed a ton apiece, the best bit of anchor work ever turned out of Pell’s, and men thought of them and the new hemp cable made fast to each great iron ring, and the cable end parcelled and served against chafe, and said that “The Kate” was safe. Some believed it, even when a great sea began to roll into the harbour, and the “Katherine M. Dawson” surged and surged in the howling dark. The bar was breaking the whole way across, now, roaring under the assault of piled seas. And the sea drove the watchers back from the shore. It ran up Fish Point and tore at the grass sod, and ran back, into the darkness, with a sucking rattle, that deafened the ears; and then without warning sprang out of the dark again, a wall, white-foamed, at eye level, breaking in thunder and hurling cobblestones about their feet.

There was a thin sound of wheels and hooves, and the men turned and saw Dawson in his gig, with young Shad at the reins. “Does she hold?” Cried Dawson in a voice they had never heard before. “She holds!” they bawled, but as they cried they saw the barque’s anchor lights swing. “Hold! Hold!” Sandy Dawson screamed, as if cables and anchors could hear. The lights moved at a gallant speed. “There!” He had not meant to sound triumphant but triumphant he sounded, and Dawson turned on him harshly. “There,” he said, thrusting a bony finger out into the hissing dark, “goes all Malton!” Afterwards they knew what he meant, but not then. “God help Red Hugh and his men if she strikes on the bar!”

Red Hugh was making, that moment, the decision that saved him and his men. A bellow sent them aloft to let fall the stiff new fore topsail. That brought the barque stern-to wind and sea and gave her steerage way. Dead to leeward thundered the bar. Four points off the starboard bow he could see the tall spouts thrown up by the Cow, and steered for it, risking the Calves on the height of a full moon tide and a piled-up sea brought in by the wind. She touched one and staggered, but fled on at a speed they could only guess. Red Hugh with his own great paws on the wheel, ran her dead into the gap between the Cow and the shore. Before she struck he called all hands aft, expecting the masts to go. But the new rigging held. She struck and fetched up at once, nipped between rock and shore, and the great seas breaking over the stern. Red Hugh and the others on the half deck were swept off their feet and washed along the deck. They clambered into the fore rigging, and out along the lower fore yard arm and slid down the brace into the woods. It was as neat as that. They would not desert their ship, even then, but stayed by the shore. One man had dry matches, the quaint stinking card-matches that Charles Oslen made in his little factory on Queen Street, and they lit a great fire, for comfort, I suppose, though the gale blew the smoke and flame all about them, and would have fired the woods if it had not been for the rain.

In the small house above Cow Cove, Albert Dangley heard the crash of Red Hugh’s berthing, and ran out into the storm-beaten woods to the shore. He blundered out of the trees, the fire flamed suddenly, and the barque appeared, enormous and frightful in that narrow space, with spars towering up into nothingness. But Albert saw the bright figure of Kate, serene in jacket and bodice, kneeling at the very edge of the bank, lit by the red flame of the fire. When Dawson and the others arrived by the harbour road, they found him there, gibbering.

“What’s he say?” Dawson bellowed.

“Something about a prophecy.”


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