Scud by Herbert Ward
It was the morning after my arrival. I had just come, jaded from
examination papers, agued with the incessant ring of orations, abhorrent
of the rustle of white tarlatans, distrustful of the future attitude of
trustees, and utterly wilted from the effect of a country academy
exhibition held in the heat of June in the torridest of Western towns. I
had never seen the ocean, and before my window the glorious old Atlantic
heaved solemnly. Its intermittent swash upon the rocks sent peace into
my soul. I found myself near enough even to throw something into the
water. The longing to communicate with this new friend, dreamed of for
so many inland years, overpowered me. A box of buttons was all I had,
and I leaned far out into the air, pungent with a mixture of fish and
kelp, and cast into the deep these feminine necessities, one by one.
Now a tiny disk of mother-of-pearl would glance on the float and bounce
off into a gray ripple; and then a bit of jet would clatter on the red
granite rocks, and be swallowed by a lapping wavelet that seemed to rise
on purpose for this strange offering. Too soon the box was emptied of
its contents; then there came a mad desire to throw cologne, shoes,
satchel, anything, everything, myself, from the second-story window into
this mysterious, beckoning, repelling Atlantic tide beneath me. Leaning
on the sill, with my whole soul absorbed in this new Nirvana, I was
suddenly and yet not unpleasantly aroused by a strident yell:
"Hellow, Scud! Wha'che got this mornin'?"
"Oh, no-thin', only twenty-six little 'uns, an' a couple bucket o'
The answer came back in a deep, orotund, sing-song voice. It was the
natural intoning of the man of the sea. Two boats shot from under a
rocky headland a few hundred yards before me to the left. One of the
boats made fast to some black corks that formed a huge rectangle in the
water, and two men began pulling in a net. The one in the other boat,
who answered to the name of Scud, stopped rowing for a moment, exchanged
a word or two, and laughed aloud, then cast a critical look at the sun's
altitude, and pulled lazily away. When he was at some distance, he
rested on his oars, and hilloaed with that penetrating sea cry:
"I hope you'll get two barr'l. I guess thar's 'nough to go all round."
That undulatory cadence is entirely lacking in landsmen's tones. Still
this was an extraordinarily joyous voice, as if the life of a fisherman
were a dream without a care or a struggle. But Scud and his queer, green
boat disappeared behind the jagged outline of the rocks, and I turned at
the sound of the first bell to dress for breakfast.
"Well, how do you like your room? I hope that the fishermen didn't wake
you up too early."
My cousin offered me some smoking flakes of fish, new to my limited
experience. This, he said, was inland hake, and was caught that morning
in Scud's trap. Now, although I was hitherto ignorant of this delicious
fish with its paradoxical cognomen, I felt that Scud and I were already
friends; and gravely informed my host that Scud had caught twenty-six
little ones that morning. This piece of information was immediately
greeted with impertinent hilarity.
"So Scud woke you up?" said my cousin. "He's always doing that. There
was one nervous boarder here. She threatened to have him arrested for
breaking the peace. But you might as well arrest a fog-whistle."
"Does he always get up as early in the morning?" I asked,
apprehensively. "He must be a very energetic person. Do tell me about
it. What are 'little 'uns'?"
I must confess to a degree of perplexity when the the whole family burst
into further roars of laughter at my simple question.
"Scud energetic? Why, he is the easiest, the slowest, the sleepiest, the
most lovable, good-natured fellow on the whole coast. He makes the
surest and perhaps the best living of any of the fishermen around here.
If he didn't get up early he wouldn't do even that. As it is, Salt does
most of the work. Salt is his oldest boy," explained my cousin.
"I am sure Scud needs all he can make," interrupted Mabel (she is my
cousin's wife), "with his dozen children and a wife to support, and only
one trap to do it on."
"For my part," interposed the oldest daughter, with a pert motion of her
head, "I am tired to death having to save clothes for that—You needn't
look so shocked, mamma. Yes, I am. It's always 'Take care of that
petticoat; Betty can use it;' or, 'That dress can be turned and made
over nicely for the twins.' I declare I don't get a new dress but the
whole Scud family troop over and inspect it, and criticise it, and
quarrel over it, and gloat over it the first day I wear it. I caught two
of their boys fighting over which of them should have Reginald's summer
ulster when he was done with it."
"I shall give it to Tommy," observed her mother, in an absent,
After breakfast my cousin rowed over to the station; the eldest two
children took their guest, a boy of about sixteen, out fishing; while I
eagerly accompanied Mabel across the rocks and fields to Scud's house—a
little rented hut, hidden and sheltered from the east winds behind a
huge barrack of a boarding-house.
How clear the day! How warm the sun! How hospitable this forbidding,
granite-clad North Shore! As I look back upon that memorable morning it
seemed as if the bay could never be ruffled by any but the tenderest
breezes, or its bright water reflect any but the dazzling glare of the
hottest sun. Clouds hovered over us, delicate and fleecy as the feathers
of the marabou, and white and curly as the feathers of the ostrich. They
radiated from a centre in translucent films, and shot out monstrous
ciliated fingers like a fan. Such a sky was never seen in my part of
the country, and I attributed this ravishing cloud phenomenon to the
peculiar influence of the sea, being too ignorant to notice that these
streamers shot out from the west. The stillness was intoxicating after
the scurry of the school-room. And now even the water made no ripples on
the beach. The sea was motionless, like a distilled elixir in a serrated
We stopped before a low, pitch-roofed house that looked as if it
contained three rooms at most. The yard was piled up with wreckage and
drift-wood. Who ever heard of a fisherman buying kindling? Within the
gate four children were playing with twice as many cats and kittens.
They were all fighting like animals between themselves for a plateful of
scraps of fried fish. A baby would grab a piece from the plate, and
offer the remainder to a grave tabby, which in turn distributed it to
her offspring. Then the kittens and "humans" rolled and scratched, and
shrieked and scratched again.
"Keep yer mouths shet out there, or I'll be after ye with a stick!" This
maternal sentiment, spoken in a loud shrill voice, greeted us as we
stepped within the gate.
"It's I, Betty. I have brought you a little something, and a friend who
wants to see the children."
"Dear sakes! 'tain't you, is it?" The shrill voice was now modulated in
an entirely different tone. "Ain't I glad you've come! Step right in and
set down. No? Then I'll be out and see ye ez soon ez I've tended the
"Baby!" I gasped, looking at the four fighting infants at my feet, none
of whom looked over thirteen months. "Are these hers too?"
"These are the twins," answered Mabel, quite seriously. "They call them
'the twin.' These are the two sets, just a year apart. The baby was born
a month ago. The baby isn't named. Let me see: these are Bessie and
Maurie and Robbie and Susie."
"Why, I thought you knew better," protested the mother, in a grieved
voice. "Susie is in the house there. That's Bessie." She wiped her hands
on her apron, and thrust one of them out through a rent in the
mosquito-netted door. "I'm glad to see any of her friends. Yes. Good
mor'n'. The children? Laws sakes, they're round the house like pups!"
The face was remarkable for a pair of brilliant black eyes, an
inheritance of Italian ancestry. She was not yet middle-aged, and her
hair had turned prematurely gray. Her hands were bony, nervous hands,
indicative of great executive capacity, but the incessant work had left
"Are all your children here?" I asked, not knowing what else to say.
"Here's four of 'em. Come out here, you in there, an' I'll count ye." It
was a pitiful sight to see these five plump, rosy youngsters pass in
review before the frail, emaciated mother.
"But here are only nine," I ventured.
"Salt's missing, mother," said the eldest girl; "he's with father to the
"So he is, Kittie. They've rowed round the cove with what they ketched.
They'll be back d'rectly."
"But how do you manage, Mrs.—ah—Scud?" I asked. I am afraid there was
a slight choke in my throat as I spoke. The mother cast a quick look at
my face, and shoving her children into the house, one by one, said:
"Now go, Kittie; finish the dishes. You, Mamie, put the baby kearfully
in the box. What did you hit Jim for, Sammy? Let me ketch you a-hitten
your little brother agin an' I'll spank you. Now get in the house, all
of ye. You see, miss," turning to me, "we manage somehow. If it wa'n't
fur her, we'd give up. There's that boy Jim, he took to swearing this
spring. I declare it was jess awful to hear him go on. I spanked him,
and Scud he switched him, but it wa'n't to no use. That boy talked jess
scand'lous, till your cousin here, miss, she heerd him one mornin', an'
took a white powder an' put a little on his tongue. It made Jim powerful
sick. And, says she, 'If I hear you swearin' agin I'll pizen ye; an'
you'll die in a minute an' never see God,' and I declare to goodness he
was so skeared that I hain't heerd him swear since. There's Scud.
Where's Salt, pa? Come here an' speak to the ladies. She's brought ye
"Salt's makin' the boat fast," began Scud, nodding with inimitable ease
to his visitors. "I'm afraid ther's goin' to be—"
Scud stopped short in open-mouthed pleasure when he saw a couple of
brilliant red and blue ties dangling from Betty's hand. He had come up
the rocky path, whistling like a boy, with every line and pucker in his
face on a broad smile. If Lavater had seen this fisherman's physiognomy
he would have pronounced it indicative of incomparable good nature.
Indeed, Scud's good nature went so far at times as to be incomparably
inadequate to the demands of existence. If he happened to go for weeks
without catching so much as a sculpin in his net, and the starvation of
his youngsters stared him in the face, he showed none of the common
symptoms of discouragement, such as swearing, drinking, beating his
wife, or cursing his luck. He only whistled the blither, ran up bills at
the butcher's and grocer's with irresistible faith, borrowed his "chaws"
of his luckier mates, and laughed as if poverty were an excellent joke
that Providence was cracking at him. Why shouldn't he appreciate it,
even if it were at his own expense.
Scud was born "easy." Who could blame him? He gave up his lobster-pots
because it took too much time to dry them and keep them in repair, and
it was too cold and dangerous hauling them in stormy weather off the
rocks. Scud found it too troublesome to underrun his trap more than
twice a-day—once at six o'clock in the morning, then at six o'clock at
night. Even when the mackerel or the herring struck, and every man who
had a trap hovered over it night and day to keep the catch from
mysteriously immaterializing, as well as to gather it in, Scud was
satisfied with his diurnal visits. He "wa'n't a-goin' to keep a-runnin'
to see the fish swim in. If they were fool 'nough to go in the trap,
they could stay there till he underrun an' bailed 'em out." His methods
of gaining a livelihood were unique on the coast; yet it was Scud who
"stocked" eight hundred and fifty dollars that summer clean, two hundred
dollars above any one else in the harbor. It was the saying among some
of the jealous fishermen in the cove, who were not blessed with two
pairs of twins, that "nobody 'arned so easy a livin' as Scud without
doin' no work." But these indistinct murmurs never stimulated Scud nor
impaired his good nature. Indeed, Scud was the happiest man that ever
lived. What a dancing, laughing eye! What a catalogue of joys therein!
What contagious, hopeful humor! What irrepressible buoyancy of spirits!
Who could help loving Scud, as one loves a huge, long-coated St. Bernard
dog? Scud was the laughing, joyous, piping Pan of the ocean. He smoked
not, neither did he drink. He had no vices that debased him. Chewing is
not a vice for a fisherman. But he did have a curious taste for candy.
No present pleased him so much as a half a pound of caramels or of
sugar-coated nuts. It was the sweet animal nature instinctively laying
hold of sweets.
Scud's "easiness" was unmitigated—at times it was exasperating; but
this made him all the fatter, the jollier, the more companionable; and
as it succeeded so well, why not? Summer boarders were appreciative of
Scud. He lived upon them. Twins?—they did it. It was a dime show, and
the money was paid.
Two sets of authentic twins! It was enough to drain a woman's heart of
sympathy, a woman's pocket of money; and the summer boarders were mostly
women—married women, with husbands sweating in the city to support
them; single women, school-teachers and that sort.
But Scud stood looking at the ties. He seldom bought clothes, any more
than he purchased firewood or paid for his fish. They came to him. Here
was a pair of trousers that was once a bishop's. That coat and vest were
the velveteen relics of a posing artist. The cap was a yachtsman's gift,
and the neckties came as a matter of course. Yet Scud never begged. And
once when he caught one of his four-year-old boys insinuating to a
summer boarder, with outstretched palm, that he would like a penny, Scud
thrashed him within a centimeter of his life. New England fishermen will
take a gift as a sort of neighborly accommodation to you; but he'll
starve before he will ask you for it.
"Are them fur me?" (Scud was always surprised at such a crisis.) "Thank
ye, ma'am. Ain't them showy? I guess they'll skeer the mac'rel off the
"I wanted you to take me out sailing this morning, Mr. Scud," I began,
after a formal introduction. Scud looked somewhat gratified with the
prefix to his name, and regarded me with interest. To take boarders out
sailing at the rate of seventy-five cents an hour was the kind of work
he would do.
"Yes, ma'am. But I'm 'fraid it'll be a little fresh to-day, if ye hain't
used to sailin'." He jerked his head to the westward. "Salt is a makin'
the dory fast with a new haulin'-line, ma'am. I guess we'll have a
squall pretty soon."
We followed Scud's gesture and looked. A squall on a day like this? The
white streamers had vanished, and above us was dark, unfathomable blue.
But on the western horizon, stretching far to the south, a black bank
had arisen. No cloud in the physical geography was ever sketched
blacker. It had come up as stealthily as a Zulu warrior. It was the hue
of unpolished iron. It had a faint reddish tint. Its outline was as
clear cut as a cameo. It sent ahead here and there jagged tentacles,
broad at the base and fine at the tip, that advanced, dissolved, and
reappeared again with significant rapidity. The ocean had suddenly grown
lethargic. It seemed unable to reflect the sun that still shone. It
became like a platter of tarnished silver. As we looked, the sight
rapidly grew uglier.
Now my cousin Mabel seemed hypnotized by it. She stood for a few
minutes with her hands hanging at her sides; her delicate jaw dropped.
Suddenly she pulled herself together, and whispered: "It is horrible! It
is awful!" Then, as if seized with the full import of the scene, she
cried aloud, "My children! They are out fishing in a sail-boat! My
children!" She began to run towards the shore leaving us all staring
My nautical sense was not as highly trained as Mabel's, but I thought
the sight terrifying and fine. It was part of the Eastern culture
towards the education of the Western girl. But seeing Scud look sober—I
had the impression that it was for the first time in his life—I
"Do come too, Scud. Is it so bad? Won't it blow over?"
"It's goin' to be as bad as I ever seed in these parts, miss. I'll do
what I can. 'Twon't be much, I'll bet."
I ran down to the house, followed by Scud at a moderate walk. Scud never
ran. Would he have run for the drowning? I doubted it.
The clouds had arisen with terrible velocity. They coursed over the bare
sky like a black bull with horns down. White cirrhus clouds now darted
out here and there ahead, like fluttering standards of warning. And now
the sun was gored to death. The black bank advanced in one wide line.
Blackness had fallen everywhere. Anxiety was visible in every form of
nature—in the cries of the birds, the skulking of the dogs, the
blanched faces of the boarders, the attention of the fishermen.
In the British navy, when any terrible and sudden disaster occurs on a
man-of-war, such as the bursting of a gun, a collision, or striking upon
the rocks, the bugler sounds, what is known as "the still." On hearing
it every man aboard comes to a standstill. This momentary pause enables
each to collect his nerves to meet the summons of the shock. Nature was
now commanding "the still"; but the order came through the eyes. No
sound was as yet heard. The sea, the air, sentient life, all souls, held
their breath before the shock that must come. Men collected along the
coast to meet the threatened tornado. By that subtle force which
sensitive organisms will recognize, be it called telepathy or psychic
power or magnetism, I knew, ignorant as I was, that nature was silently
preparing for a terrific struggle.
When Scud and I joined Mabel on the rocks in front of her house we found
her wringing her hands, sobbing and crying for help. It seemed that her
two children, who had gone out fishing with their city guest, were in a
sail-boat. This was managed by a boy about their age—none of them were
over sixteen. But the lad who sailed the little boat was a fisherman's
son. He was considered very expert, and had broad experience from his
babyhood up. But this fact did not soothe the mother. Appalled by the
color and the swiftness of the clouds, and the ominous import to the
safety of the little sail-boat, we scanned the harbor and the coast; but
no boat answering to the description was in sight. Scud tried to comfort
the mother in his shaggy way. "The b'ys hev sailed to the inner cove,
ma'am. They's ashore by this time, I'll bet."
As Scud spoke, the large fishing-schooners, leaving and entering the
broad harbor shot, one after the other, as if by mutual impulse, into
the direction of the clouds, into the west, and dropped sails and
anchors with incredible rapidity. Far out to sea vessels were now seen
to ride with bare poles; it was evident that they had anticipated a
formidable blow. We stood on a bend in the shore, and the broad bay lay
between us and the rising storm. The rocky coast stood forth in a long,
broken outline opposite to us, far down towards Great Brabant. The open
Atlantic spread before us to the south-west. And now lightnings flashed
in angry sheets. The sea took to itself suddenly a peculiar greenish
tinge. There were heard distant bellowings. We strained our eyes for the
boys. Where were they? Where were they? Two miles out ships began to
"They've cotched it!" shouted Scud. "Here it comes. Look out, leddies!"
Driven by earth's mightiest, most implacable, most invisible force, a
line of foam dashed across the bay. Spray from the water twenty feet
below struck us in the face simultaneously with the wind. The white
squall had burst upon us. I dragged my poor cousin with me to the
piazza, into the house, which shuddered through all its frame and would
have fallen had it not, after the fashion of this bleak shore, been
chained to the rocks.
Now Scud staid outside. It did not seem clear at first why. Pretty soon
we saw him trying to pull the tender upon the float, that was clean
washed by every wave.
Then came the first lull. The mother ran out into it wildly. The water
was green and white. Two coasters and a large yacht were running in for
shelter without a stitch of canvas. They were making straight for the
"Look! Come here! Look! What's that boat? See! Way out there beyond the
island! My God! It's my children!"
A half-mile or more away, in the very heart of the squall, a little boat
with full sail set was staggering unto death. Language cannot hint at
the horror in the mother's face. She had made her summer's home for
fifteen years within a shell's throw of the sea, and she knew perfectly
well what this situation meant. No one could have undeceived her, and no
one tried. She stood for a moment staring straight ahead, stretched out
her arms, swayed, and fell. She was one of the fainting kind, and there
was nothing to be done about it. We carried her in and laid her down. It
was my impulse to trust her to her terrified servants. I was too
terrified myself to know whether I was right or wrong. Irresistibly
compelled, I rushed out of doors again, and appealed (with feminine
instinct, I suppose) to the only man, within reach. Scud responded
"Yes; that's them!" He pitched his orotund voice upon me as if he were
giving a command in a gale at sea.
Men now began to gesticulate wildly at the ill-fated boat from the
rocks, as if that could help the matter.
"Drop that mains'l, you —— fools, or you'll go to ——!" The voices
struck me like a volley of bullets, but they could not have penetrated
ten feet to windward.
"Scud!" I cried. "Help! Save them, Scud!"
"I can't do nothing," he howled in my ear. "No one can't. You can't row
in them breakers."
By this time the wind had increased its force. The sail-boat was near
enough for one to see the desperate attempts the boyish skipper made to
lower the sail. One of the halyards had become caught. The boy made wild
rushes to the mast. Then the boat would rock and fly around. To save her
the lad darted back to the helm just in time. This sickening struggle
against a knot was repeated several times. On the bottom the three
passengers lay inert with terror. A twenty-foot boat with full sail,
when hundred-ton schooners trembled under bare poles! Even my
inexperience grasped the situation.
"He's doing all-fired well, but he can't last no longer if that—He'll
be druv on the rocks! They'll be druv to——!"
The rocks were now lined with men commenting in an apathetic way upon
the tragedy enacting before their eyes.
"Why don't they do something?" In my ignorance of the curious
stolidity which falls upon the shore in face of danger upon the sea, I
stood shrieking: "Why doesn't somebody go? Why don't you men do
The fishermen and the summer people looked into each other's eyes, but
no man answered a word.
"Can't you help them?" I pleaded with another weather-beaten
"Can't be done, or I'd do it."
"I came down to see them capsize, an' I guess they'll go," said a gruff
But Scud gave me a long look. He stood quite silent. An expression of
rare gravity was on his joyous face. He glanced apprehensively from the
boat to the house.
"She can't, Scud; she's fainted. There isn't anybody but me. I've
got to do something. The children have got to be saved, Scud!" The
Western girl shook him by the arm. Her very ignorance gave a force to
her appeal that intelligence could not have supplied. Had I understood
what I asked I should not have said: "Scud, won't you go? They are
drowning. See, Scud! Go!"
The doomed sail was beaten here and there in the fierce wind; the jib
was blown to tatters. The boat took in water, righted, and careened
with every riotous puff. A hundred times men turned their faces away and
women shrieked, expecting it to go down. A hundred times repeated
miracle protected the helpless boat.
Scud walked slowly down the heaving gangway that connected the rocks
with the float. The man who came down to see the boat capsize followed
with his hands in his pockets. He balanced himself on the railing with
his elbows as the gangway jumped beneath him.
"What yer up ter, Scud?" he yelled above the tempest. "They're driftin'
on yer trap. That'll fetch 'em."
Scud looked up. His feet were washed in the water that flooded the float
at every surge. To strike the trap meant instant overturn. To become
entangled in and driven on to the meshes of the broad, deep net meant
"I guess I'll go. Help me shove the dingy off." So spoke Scud,
"You—" The rest of the expletive was lost in the gale. The breakers
made sport of Scud, and spat at him with their white tongues. "Your
childer! The twins! Betty!" thundered his friend.
Scud hurriedly put in the oar-locks. As he bent, the wind caught his
cap and dashed it on the rocks. Scud shook his brown hair to the furies.
"Ye see!" yelled his companion significantly. "Now get in, will ye?"
"Shet up, Steve! Gimme them oars. Don't ye see I'm goin'? I wish I hed
A murmur of applause went up from the crowd as the fisherman shoved off.
The light tender was twisted about and all but cast upon the cliffs
before he could gain his first stroke.
And now the man of the sea set his weak mouth into petrified resolve.
The wind and the water attacked his boat like assassins. They meant to
kill. Scud knew this. He rowed guardedly, mistrustful of a cowardly
feint, of an underhand lunge. The tender quivered beneath each dash of
the waves, each onslaught of the squall, each hurried stroke of the
oars. Scud rowed warily, lest he be over-turned and buried between the
trough and the height of the waves. The wind howled at him. The bay
showered upon him. The gale clutched him and turned him about. How now!
Whence came these muscles of steel that subdued such powers arrayed
against lazy Scud? How now! Whence came that indomitable judgment that
baffled the elements at their own wildest sport? Fishermen stared from
the shore at this unparalleled exhibition of skill, coolness, courage
and strength from Scud.
Then, with the spite of which only a white squall is capable, it
thundered against Scud, and with the animosity of which only the
Atlantic Ocean is capable, it rose upon Scud and well-nigh bore him
under. Hope is easily dashed in the hearts of inert spectators, but Scud
did not falter. The crowd stood by commenting:
"Scud! Thet Scud? Poor Betty! Poor widder! We'll hev ter fish him up
ter-night. Plucky fellow! Brave deed! That's grit! Thar's skill! Who'd
'a' thought it? Scud!"
But Scud the "easy," Scud the do-little, Scud the good-for-naught—Scud,
of whom nobody expected anything—comfortable, self-indulgent Scud,
rowed on sturdily straight out into that hell. Could he ever overtake
the boat? How was it possible? If he did the extra weight would swamp
the fancy tender, built only to carry two or three at the most in light
weather. How could he get one in?
"Why the —— didn't he take his dory?" asked an old man.
"How in —— can he bring her up with a haulin'-line an' git in from the
rocks?" answered another contemptuously.
"Scud may get 'em," ventured an expert, "but what'll he do with 'em?"
Now Scud had rowed beyond the net to the right, in order to bear down
upon it the easier.
"Thar she strikes! God help 'em!" Cries came from a dozen throats. The
sail-boat struck against the leader of the net. It swung broadside to
the wind, that forced it over and under. Agonized shrieks were borne to
the shore. I was glad that Mabel was a fainting woman.
For some time Scud's wife had stood apart and looked upon the scene. Her
eyes were dry and feverish. She did not talk. She hugged a baby at her
breast desperately. Salt held a pair of twins; the oldest girl another.
Children sprawled upon the ground, clinging to their mother's feet and
dress. None drew near or spoke to this pathetic group. What could one
do? What word could one say? The storm swayed Betty here and there. Her
hair waved in the hurricane. She had long, pretty hair. Spray drenched
her. She did not cry out. She stood like the Niobe of the sea. She
looked like one expecting the fate that had been only delayed. An
average of two hundred men a year from this fishing-town are swallowed
up by the ocean that affords them sustenance, and their starving widows
are left after them. Betty was only one of a thousand of her kind who
stolidly concealed a desolate suspense. And now her turn had come,
harder than the rest, for she was in at the death.
It is a mystery until this day how Scud reached the over-turned
sail-boat as he did. With a dory his work would not have been
comparatively easy; but with a thirteen-foot yacht's tender it was
super-human. The two girls clinging to the wreck were lifted bodily into
the boat. Scud was quick but cool, and imparted perfect confidence to
the water-sodden children. At the fisherman's peremptory order, the two
boys clung to each side of the tender. We could see them dragging in the
water; it was the only way. Scud now began to row before the storm.
There were no cheers from the rocks. Not a man of them stirred. The
fishermen, hardened to perils of the sea, had been fascinated by this
exhibition of cool-blooded heroism from the least heroic of them all.
The cockle-shell dashed madly towards the shore.
No power could row it weighted against the wind that beat upon it with
fitful concentration. Straight before the tender was a little beach
between the rocks, not more than twenty feet wide, but this was
protected at its entrance by a line of reefs, easily passable at high
tide, and bare at low. The rollers broke upon most of these rocks, and
the spume swirled in dirty froth upon the pebbly beach. Scud made for
the opening. The gale drove him wildly along. A few men now ran to the
beach and the outlying rocks, ready to do the possible at any emergency.
Would Scud pass the reef or not? There was not time to answer the
question. The boat rose upon a huge wave. Foam and spray enveloped it
from view. There was a rumbling cry of horror. There was a dull
splintering crash. Fifty men rushed to the beach and lined the cliffs.
The boat had struck upon the last rock. As the wave passed on, the
terrible sight of black human heads appeared in a setting of white foam.
But these were within reach almost. These could be saved. Ah! Men wade
in, somehow, anyhow, forming a line, and pass one to shore. Saved! And
then another. Thank God! Here comes the third on that wave! Grasp that
dress! Tenderly, it is a girl. All here! All saved!
But where is Scud? Oh, but he can swim. He is strong and used to
chilling water and fierce waves. The helpless children safe, and Scud
gone? Impossible! Incredible! Too horrible!
Involuntarily one man and then another turned to look at the widow and
the orphans, and then they turned and cursed the sea aloud.
At this moment a dark little figure shot past them all, by the
bewildered man, and dashed with a shriek into the foam. What did she do?
How did she do it? What could be done? A woman—a little woman—her baby
only one month old—Betty! She caught the sinking hand, the drowning
head—she never knew how. A dozen men plunged in now. Spectators who had
not wet their feet during all that horrible scene swam now in the
whirlpool for the woman's sake, and for the shame she wrought upon them.
Brawny arms and steady feet bore her back. Her little hand, rigid,
clutched her husband by the collar of his shirt.
Scud was carried quickly up and laid upon the piazza. An ugly bruise was
upon his forehead.
The wind died down. The rain came in white torrents. Betty stood in the
deluge and shielded her husband automatically. The children, most of
them too small to know the reason why, lifted up their voices and wept.
"Father," said Betty, softly, "why don't ye speak to me? Dearie, dearie
Scud. I saved ye. Hain't ye nothing to say to me, Scud?"
"You'd better go into the house," said some one. "Leave Scud to us
awhile." For in truth not a man or woman of us but believed that Scud
"You jess get us to a kitchen fire," said Betty, quietly, "and leave him
And it was repeated with many a trembling lip far down the coast that
night that Scud would live.
It was the morning of my departure, and it had come by the last express
the night before. It had been kept a profound secret, for we would not
risk a cruel disappointment. Scud had rowed to town with a full fare of
fish, and Salt was with him, doing the rowing. We left word that they
should come to the house as soon as they had put up their dory. A
peremptory message was sent to Betty to come over immediately to do some
work. A few neighbors happened to drop in. There might have been a dozen
or so in all. My cousin did not go into town that day. He said he wanted
to see me off. Betty came a little early, and was set to scrubbing the
But Scud, a hero? He had forgotten all about it now. He was the same old
fellow, just as easy, just as jolly, just as careless. Scud wasn't at
all spoiled by what had happened. He was as comfortable as the sea,
this very morning. Who would have suspected the passing of a grand storm
upon the hearts of either? Scud's sluggish blood had been "up" for one
fiery hour. For one great day he had been the hero of the coast—the
peer of all its heroes. Then the fire went out, and Scud became as he
was. Perhaps Scud was more popular; his babies were better fed.
Fishermen treated him with a grudged respect, and when he was pointed
out to every new squad of boarders as the bravest man on the whole
coast, they smiled. How could that grinning, singing Scud save a
It was just eleven o'clock. With what impatience we had waited for the
tramp of those rubber boots! We rushed upon the piazza and greeted Scud
and Salt, dressed in their oil-skins, just as they had come from the
trap. Scud halted uneasily at the front door.
"No miss, I can't come in in this toggery; I'm all gurry. I'll go home
and change my clothes. Couldn't get here sooner. Herrin' jess struck. We
sold ten barr'l this mornin'."
But we constrained him, and Scud entered, staring about, shuffling his
rubber boots and wiping them as best he might. White scales of fish
glittered upon his black oil-skins. He looked as if he were mailed in
It devolved upon me to fetch Betty from the pantry; but I saw as I went
that all of the people in the parlor stood up as Scud entered, as if
they were greeting a prince. Scud looked from one to the other
uncomfortably. He blushed a deep russet red, and stared, and then
laughed in a vacant way. Betty now appeared in the doorway, and the
three made a most impressive group in their working-clothes, wondering
what it was all about, and what the city folk were after now.
"Scud," said the master of the house, clearing his throat, "you have
done the bravest deed this coast has record of for twenty years. You
have saved to us our children, dearer than our life. You had your own
wife to think of, and the children who depend upon you for their bread.
You have been a hero. To us you are always a hero, and our love and
gratitude will last as long as our days. I have the privilege of
presenting to you the highest tribute Massachusetts pays to her brave
men—the gold medal of her great Humane Society, one hundred years old.
This honor has not been sought, but has been eagerly bestowed. May it
never leave your family! It will be an inspiration to your boys. You
have obtained the reward of your pluck, and you deserve it, old fellow.
Now shake!" The speech broke in eloquence, but not in feeling.
"See," said Mabel, "I kiss the medal for you and for my dear children's
sake." She flashed it from its plush case, and placed the solemn emblem,
whose exquisite engravings glittered like a jewel, in his great wet
Salt turned his face to the wall. Betty put her apron over her face, and
Scud's eyes ran dripping over. He opened his mouth, but no sound came
"And now, Betty, look here," said her mistress in a gay, tremulous tone,
"I have something for you." She held out in her delicate hand forty
silver dollars, the gift of the Humane Society to Betty herself. "You
are a woman, and you saved a man's life," explained my cousin, "and the
society always recognizes the courage of a woman."
But Betty drew herself up in her scrubbing dress. She had a fine look.
"Thank you, ma'am," she said, "and the gentleman too. But he was my
husband; I don't take no money from nobody for savin' of my husband. I'm
just as much obleeged to ye." Almost every child in her house was
dressed in "given" clothes, but the unpauperized soul looked out of
Betty's faded eyes.
"Well," said my cousin, looking nonplussed, "how would it do to make it
over to the twins?"
"As ye please," said Betty, shining. So the four twin babies received
ten silver dollars apiece from the Humane Society for plunging into the
water and saving their father's life. This was an illegal procedure. I
grant it. And if the Society now for the first time learneth of the
matter, I am fain to believe that it is too old and too great to take
We were rowing over to catch my train. Scud was the oarsman. He sat
quite still, and had a dazed look. Midway of the bay he stopped pulling,
lifted and crossed his oars. I saw his Adam's apple rising and falling
like an irresolute tide.
"I were took all of a sudden," he said, slowly; "I never felt so in all
my life. My throat felt kinder queer an' dry. But I'm mightily obliged
to yer. It might give Salt a lift. But I didn't know what to say, an' so
I didn't say nothing'."