Then he felt the boat, as though suddenly endowed with life, start forward, and, glancing at the Fledgling, saw that she had made a tangent course to the wreck in order that the boat could be pulled outward from it and away. Dan knew in an instant that they had lashed the line to the stern bitts and had taken the desperate chance, the only chance, of making the tug pull her lifeboat from danger. Could the little line stand the strain? That was the question. It was so tight that it vibrated like thin wire, and it was humming musically, monotonously. It held—the boat was moving! But the lumber was moving too. On it came. Ten feet—a plank wrenched clear of the mass and shot on ahead, ramming out the lifeboat’s stern-board, above the water line. Another plank, as though hurled by some sinister force, sailed clear over Dan’s head. Ten feet—the line was fraying out at the ring bolts. Just a second now—five feet. With one bound the lumber swept down, and past the stern of the boat, and Captain Ephraim fell to his knees and thanked his God.
The fight off Jones Island Inlet came at a time when it meant much to Dan. It was the deep sea, and he had measured his might with it. And as a man is dignified by the prowess of his opponent, so was Dan dignified by the prowess of the sea. Perhaps that was why the sea had always called Dan—faintly, dimly; far away sometimes, but always unmistakably. It came in every wind that blew; a voice that involved not the sea alone, but the things it stood for—a broader, deeper life and bigger things; more to do, a final and definite place to make. He had never met or been influenced by the big men—the men who think and teach and sing and do the world’s work. His environment in these, his early years of manhood, had been far from them. He could touch them only in books, which were not entirely satisfactory. And so he learned from the sea and it spoke to him of breadth, and power, and determination, and majesty of character. Dan was instinctively seeking all these things, and in the work he was now doing he felt that he was nearer to them than he had ever been before.
THE LOSS OF THE “FLEDGLING”
One Fall afternoon, six months after the rescue of the men of the Zeitgeist, the Fledgling, as though sentient with the instinct of self-preservation, was struggling through the riot of wind and waves, seeking the security of the Delaware Breakwater, while ten miles back, somewhere in the wild half gloom off Hog Island, three loaded coal barges which she had been towing from Norfolk were rolling, twisting, careening helplessly to destruction—if, indeed, the seas had not already taken deadly toll of them.
Dan and two of his men were at the wheel spokes, which had torn the palms of their hands until they were raw and bleeding, and the dull light flooding in through the windows revealed the indomitable will of these men, the death-fight spirit which actuated them.