Corkey is at his wits ends. His challenge has been accepted. At the outset he had saved fifty twenty-dollar gold pieces out of his wages. He has spent fifteen already. The thought of a contest against the machine candidate carries with it the loss of the rest of the little hoard. He has boasted that he will retain Emery Storrs, the eminent advocate. Corkey grows black in the face. He hiccoughs. He strangles.
He unburdens himself with a supreme sneeze. The mate enters the cabin.
“I knew that sneeze would wreck us!” he cries savagely.
“Is your old tub sinking?” asks Corkey, in retort.
“That’s what she is!” replies the mate.
Corkey looks like a man relieved. Politics is off his mind. He will not be laughed at on the docks now.
“Pardner, I’m sorry we’re in this hole,” he says, as the twain rush through the door to the deck. It was dim under that swinging lamp. It is dark out here. The wind is bitter. The second mate stands hard by.
“How much water is in?” asks Corkey.
“Plenty,” says the second mate.
“What have ye done?” asks Corkey.
“Captain’s blind, stavin’ drunk, and won’t do nothin’.”
“Nice picnic!” says Corkey.
“Nice picnic!” says the second mate, warming up.
It is midnight in the middle of Georgian Bay. There is a fall gale such as comes only once in four or five years. In the morning there will be three hundred wrecks on the great lakes—the most inhospitable bodies of water in the world.
And of all stormy places let the sailor keep out of Georgian Bay.
OFF CAPE CROKER
Corkey has climbed to the upper deck and stands there alone in the darkness and the gale. The engine stops. The steamer falls into the trough of the sea.
The Africa carries two yawls attached to her davits. Corkey is feeling about one of these yawls. He suspects that the lines are old. He steps to the other side. He strains at a rope. He strives to unloose it from its cleat. The line is stiff and almost frozen.
“I’d be afraid to lower myself, anyhow,” he observes, for he has the notion that everything about the Africa is insecure.
The ship gives another lurch. Something must be done. Almost before he knows it, Corkey has cut loose the stern. The rope seems strong.
Now he must unwind the bow line from its cleat, or he will lose his boat. He kicks at the cleat. He loosens a loop. He raises the boat and then lowers it. The tackle works.
The other yawl and its tackle roll and creak in the gale. Nobody else comes up the ladders.
The man aloft pulls his line out and fastens it to the cleat which he tried to kick off. He seizes the stern of the yawl and hoists it far over the upper deck. The yawl falls outside the gunwale below, with a great crash and splintering of oars.