“On what, then, do you rely? To moor a craft, head and stern, by faith, hope, and charity?”
“No, sir, I trust to the under-tow. I headed for the bluff because I knew that it was stronger at that point than at any other, and because we could get nearer in with the land without entering the breakers.”
This was said with spirit, though without any particular show of resentment. Its effect on Cap was marked, the feeling that was uppermost being evidently that of surprise.
“Under-tow!” he repeated; “who the devil ever heard of saving a vessel from going ashore by the under-tow?”
“This may never happen on the ocean, sir,” Jasper answered modestly; “but we have known it to happen here.”
“The lad is right, brother,” put in the Sergeant; “for, though I do not well understand it, I have often heard the sailors of the lake speak of such a thing. We shall do well to trust to Jasper in this strait.”
Cap grumbled and swore; but, as there was no remedy, he was compelled to acquiesce. Jasper, being now called on to explain what he meant by the under-tow, gave this account of the matter. The water that was driven up on the shore by the gale was necessarily compelled to find its level by returning to the lake by some secret channels. This could not be done on the surface, where both wind and waves were constantly urging it towards the land, and it necessarily formed a sort of lower eddy, by means of which it flowed back again to its ancient and proper bed. This inferior current had received the name of the under-tow, and, as it would necessarily act on the bottom of a vessel which drew as much water as the Scud, Jasper trusted to the aid of this reaction to keep his cables from parting. In short, the upper and lower currents would, in a manner, counteract each other.
Simple and ingenious as was this theory, however, as yet there was little evidence of its being reduced to practice. The drift continued; though, as the kedges and hawsers with which the anchors were backed took the strains, it became sensibly less. At length the man at the lead announced the joyful intelligence that the anchors had ceased to drag, and that the vessel had brought up! At this precise moment the first line of breakers was about a hundred feet astern of the Scud, even appearing to approach much nearer as the foam vanished and returned on the raging surges. Jasper sprang forward, and, casting a glance over the bows, he smiled in triumph, as he pointed exultingly to the cables. Instead of resembling bars of iron in rigidity, as before, they were curving downwards, and to a seaman’s senses it was evident that the cutter rose and fell on the seas as they came in with the ease of a ship in a tides-way, when the power of the wind is relieved by the counteracting pressure of the water.
“’Tis the under-tow!” he exclaimed with delight, fairly bounding along the deck to steady the helm, in order that the cutter might ride still easier. “Providence has placed us directly in its current, and there is no longer any danger.”