wind or a back eddy, caused by the cliffs on either side, would upset the helmsman's calculations. Yet with superb coolness he would drive her, till to us watchers, lying stretched out on the ground overhead, it seemed that her forefoot must surely be over the submerged cliff-side. Certainly the white surf from the rocks washed her cutwater before the skipper who was "scunning" or directing, perched on the fore cross-tree, would sing out the "Ready about. Lee, oh!" for which the men at the sheets and bowlines were keenly waiting.
A single slip, and she would have cracked like a nutshell against those adamantine walls. But to get into the harbour it was the only way, and as the skipper said afterwards, when I remonstrated on his apparent foolhardiness, "Needs must, when the devil drives."
"There's a big crowd of men on deck, Doctor," said my companion. "Reckon she's been delayed with her freighters, and that there's a load of women and children in t' hold on t' fish."
I had been so absorbed in watching his seamanship, that I had not been thinking about the stranger. Jake's remark changed the current of my thoughts; and soon the vessel's lines seemed to assume a familiar shape, and I began to realize that I must have seen her before. Then suddenly it flashed upon me—the Water Lily, of course.
Yes, it was the Water Lily. Then Joe was on board, and the flag was because Nancy was in trouble. The reasoning was intuitive rather than didactic; but the conviction was so forcible that I instinctively rose to return to the hospital for the black bag that is my fidus Achates on every emergency call.
"You isn't going till she rounds t' point of t' Chain Rocks, is you, Doctor? It's all she'll do with the wind and tide against her—if she does it. I minds more than one good vessel that's left her bones on them reefs."
"As well stay, I suppose, Jake, for I'll be in time if I do. My! look at that!" I could not help shouting, as a flaw of wind struck the schooner right ahead as she was actually in stays, and it seemed she must either fall in sideways or drive stern foremost on the cliffs. But almost as quick as the eddy, the staysail and jib were let run and off her, and her main boom was pushed by a whole gang of men away out over the rail, so that by altering the points of pressure the good ship went safely round on her heel, and before we had time to discuss it, her head sails were up again, and she was racing on her last tack to enable her to claw through the narrow channel between the Chain Rocks and the Cannons, which form the last breakwater for the harbour.
"I think she'll do it, Jake!"
"If she once gets in t' narrows and can't fetch t' point, it's all up with her. I 'lows 'tis time to get them women out of t' hold, anyhow," he replied laconically, his eyes riveted all the while on the scene below. "There's a crowd standing by t' boat, I sees, and them's putting a line in her," he added a minute or two later, during which time excitement had prevented either of us from speaking. "Us'll know in a second one way or t'other."
The crisis had soon arrived. The schooner had once more reached across the harbour channel, and was for the last time "in stays." A decision had to be arrived at instantly, and on it, and on the handling of the vessel, depended her fate.
"He's game, sure enough, whoever he is. He's going for it hit or miss." And there was a touch of excitement evidenced even in Jake's undemonstrative exterior.
We could now plainly see the master. He was standing on the cross-tree, whence he could tell, by looking into the water, almost to an inch how far it was possible to go before turning.
"She'll do it, Jake, she'll do it. See, she's heading for the middle of the run."
"She will if she does, and that's all, Doctor. She's falling off all t' while."
It was only too true. The vessel could no longer head for the point. Her sails were aback, shaking in the wind, and she now heading straight for the rock itself. Surely she must at once try to come up in the wind, stop her way, drop her sails, if possible throw out the boat, and head for the open before she should strike on one side or the other of the run.
But no, we could hear the stentorian tones of the skipper on the cross-trees shouting that which to any but an experienced sailor must have seemed certain suicide. "Keep her away! Keep her—full! Don't starve her! Give her way! Up topsail!"—the latter having been let down to allow the vessel to lie closer hauled to the wind. "Stand by to douse the head sails! Stand by the topsail!" we heard him shout. "Stand by to shoot her into the wind!"—and then at last, just as the crash seemed inevitable, "Hard down! Shoot her up! Down sails!"
We up above, with our hearts in our mouths, saw the plucky little vessel shoot true as a die up for the point. It was her only chance. I am sure that I could have heard my own heart beating as I saw her rise on the swell that ran up on the point, and it seemed to me she stopped and hung there. But before I could be certain whether she was ashore or not, another flood of the swell had rushed over the point, and she was fairly swirled around and dropped down into the safety of the harbour.
"It's time to be going, Doctor," Jake remarked as he rose from the ground. "But I 'low t' point won't want painting t' winter," he added, with a twinkle in his eye. "Howsomever, he's a good one, he is, wherever he be from, and I don't care who says 'tain't so"—high praise from the laconic Jake.
The Water Lily was at anchor when we reached the wharf, and a boat already rowing in to the landing. A minute later, just as I had expected, Joe was wringing me by the hand, as if he had a design on the continuity of my bones.
"Nancy's bad," he blurted out. "Won't you come and see her to oncet?"
I smiled in spite of my anxiety as I looked down at my trusty bag. "I'm all ready," I replied.
The deck of the schooner was crowded with people as we came alongside. The main hatch had been taken off, and the women and children had come up for an airing. They, like our friends, were taking their passages home from their fishing stations. They are known as "freighters."
"The skipper's been awful good, Doctor. When he heard Nancy were sick, he brought her out of t' hold, and give her his own bunk. But for that she'd have been dead long ago. She had t' fits that bad; and no one knowed what to do. She were ill when t' vessel comed into t' harbour, and t' skipper waited nigh three days till she seemed able to come along. Then her got worse again. Not a thing have passed her lips this two days now."
In the little, dark after-cabin I found the sick girl, scarcely recognizable as the bonny lass whose wedding we had celebrated the previous winter with such rejoicings. There were two young women in the cabin, told off to "see to her," the kindly skipper and his officers having vacated their quarters and gone forward for poor Nancy's benefit.
The case was a plain one. It was a matter of life and death. Before morning a baby boy had been brought into the world in that strange environment only to live a few hours. The following day we ventured to move the mother, still hanging between life and death, to the hospital.
And now came the dilemma of our lives. It was impossible to delay the schooner, as already the crowd on board had lost several days; and it was not safe or right so late in the year to be keeping these other families from their homes. The Water Lily, so the kindly captain informed us, must absolutely sail