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Title: The Roosevelt and the Antinoe

Date of first publication: 1930

Author: E. J. (Edwin John Dove) Pratt

Date first posted: Apr. 11, 2019

Date last updated: Apr. 11, 2019

Faded Page eBook #20190450

This eBook was produced by: Al Haines & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

The Roosevelt Standing by the Antinoe in the January Storm of 1926. From the painting by Charles Dixon, R.I.
The Roosevelt Standing by the Antinoe in the January Storm of 1926.
From the painting by Charles Dixon, R.I.






Set up and printed.
Published February, 1930.



"Antinoe" is pronounced here An'-tĭ-no,
as in popular usage


Her high freeboard towering above the pier,
She lay beneath the lift of spars and blocks:
Her port life month by month and year by year
Knew nothing but the humdrum of the docks;—
The rumble of trucks along the warehouse floors,
The blare of sirens, shout of stevedores,
The play of tackle under the gruff mood
Of winches, clatter of hooks and booms, subdued
To the credit balance that must never fail
The ledgers of Hoboken Lines—so she,
Built for the tides of commerce on the sea,
Was under schedule in an hour to sail.

In the Commissioner's room it was agreed
Between the Master and the mariners,
That as the men received per month or run
Their wage in dollars and were guaranteed
By statutes of the State that they might draw
Their scale of rations—bread and meat and water,
Lemon and lime and such prescribed by law,
With means of warmth in weather; they, the crew,
Should pledge themselves to conduct, faithful, true,
And orderly, in honest, sober manner;
At all times in their duties diligent;
To the Master's lawful word obedient,
In everything relating to the vessel—
Safety of passengers, cargo and store,
Whether on board, in boats, or on the shore.

And with the reading thus concluded, both
The parties to the contract gave their oath
Of signature. Items of birthplace, age,
Height and description then were written in,
Each sailor's time of service with his wage—
Allotment, and address of Next-of-Kin.
So, with their sea-bags on their backs, the crew
Went up the gangway to the foc's'le; threw
Their dunnage on the bunks; soon to be lined,
Two hundred of them, on the deck; assigned
Stations and duties, as the bosun drew
The likeliest man, his mate the next; and then,
Alternately the Watches claimed the men,
In that renowned and tacit lottery
Full of the hoary savour of the sea.

The mooring cables splashing from the bollards,
Three stern and bow tugs moved her to the stream,
And slowly swung her head round with the ebb-tide;
Were cast off; when the liner on her steam
Proceeded down the channels of the Hudson,
Into the outer harbour, to the sea,
And on past Sandy Hook where finally
She set her course which led her to the Great
Circle Track for Queenstown, Plymouth, Cherbourg
(Service of passenger and mail), thence straight
To Bremen with the body of her freight.

Thursday morning rose without a sun,
Sleet in the air: the wind was westerly:
The River breeze of Wednesday had begun
To stiffen to a whole gale on the sea.
By noon the stations at the coast were flashing
Warnings, making smaller ships delay
Their date of sailing. Vessels under canvas,
Attempting shorter trips in gulf or bay,
Crawled back to harbour double-reefed, while others,
Still further to the east, that could not make
Return,—sails blown to ribbons from the gaskets—
Were forced to scud under bare poles to take
The luck ahead. Long threat lay in the signals.
The charts traced not a cyclone's come-and-go,—
The fury soon begun and as soon ended—
But those broad areas on which storms grow,
Northern and Oceanic, where each hour,
Feeding on the one before, transmits
In turn its own inheritance of power
Unto the next until the hammer hits
A hemisphere.

                      Along the eastern seaboard,
And inland to one-half the continent,
Thousands of dials in studio and station
Were "off the air" by an ungrudged consent—
That the six-hundred-metre-wave might keep
Upon the sea that night its high command,
For the great business that was nigh at hand,
With deep already calling unto deep.

Friday evening, with Cape Race reporting
Big seas with thickening fog followed by snow,
Barometer still falling, very low.

Morning of Saturday! the gale now rising
To the dimensions of a hurricane,
With gusts that boxed the compass of a vane,
Sweeping around the headlands to contest
The arrogated highway from the West.

Evening again, and in its power to smite
The snowy cordon with its warning light,
The Cape's revolving beacon was as sick
As the guttering limit of a candle-wick.
And never—it was claimed—had tides so climbed
A slope of shoal from such a depth to feed
The tumult of the upper waves; so timed
Direction with their volume and their speed,
To meet both wave and wind that all might lock
In foam above so high a line of rock.

South of this Cape within these hours, the Roosevelt
Was driving East by North, with her decks stripped;
Her lower ventilator cowls unshipped,
The shafts plugged; battened and wedged the hatches;
Bell-mouths full-bore discharging from the bilge-pumps
Under the straining hull; thirty degrees
Measuring her roll within the heavier seas.
The facing of the 'midship house was spattered
At seventy feet. Captain and quarter-master
Saw nothing legible upon the face
Of day or night: the sextant in its case,
The navigators guessed the ship's position.

Abaft—the smoke came out, to be driven back
In eddies low and fierce against the white
Salt crust upon the surface of the stack,
Then, split in billows to the left and right,
Dispersed before it found a line of flight.
The double lines of lifeboats lay like rows
Of mastodons asleep in polar snows.
Ahead—appeared under the steamer's light
Truncated day between two walls of night.
Sometimes the for'ard derrick-posts were blotted
Out; the hooded shapes of winches squatted
Upon the deck; and with each long roll, patches
Of white laggin' from the steampipes swirled
And blended with the foam around the hatches.
The sea itself was gone save when it hurled
The body of a wave across the bow;
Soon even this was lost to the bridge, and now
Behind the weather-cloth it seemed the world
Was carried with the last gust to the void.

Fried stepped inside the Pilot House to get
Another reading from the aneroid.
An hour ago the adjusting hand was set
At twenty-nine—the low foul weather mark,
And the indicator for that hour had stood
Directly underneath as though it were glued
To the card. He came nearer full of dark
Conjecture, tapped the glass, and the hand fell,
The barest fraction but perceptible,
Entering by slow, inexorable rate,
The tragic ranges of the twenty-eight.
Later he returned; the oracle
Yielded this time a record to appall
The heart. Muttering "twenty-eight (point) three,"
He shot a glance to the right where on the wall
He found, in confirmation, the line drawn
To the same level on the mercury.
'Twas four o'clock on a North Atlantic sea,
Three hours before a January dawn.
The wind having slipped the gale's leash was soon
To match the wing-shod speed of a typhoon:
The storm of nineteen twenty-six was on.

Somewhere far-off in that unwavering gloom,
Cramped in the quarters of a wireless room,
A boy was seated, tapping at a key
Water ran along the floor: his knee
Was braced against a table to resist
The dangerous angle of a starboard list.
Upon his right a wireless log-chart lay
With many entries for so young a day.
He reached and pushed a button and the drone
Of a generator started. A switch thrown,
He rapped the key, then instantly transferred
To the receiving set; listened with keen
Thrust of his face; and with no answer heard,
Changed over, going through the same routine.
But once when on the panel a blue flame,
Crackling like tearing linen at the gap,
Responded to a more than hectic tap
Of the finger, dumb and drowsy symbols came
To life. Through aerials screaming like curlews,
Magnetic messengers carried the name
Of a disabled vessel with the news
Of water in the stokehold and a crew's
Vigil upon a flooded deck. Legions
Unnumbered moving at the rate of light,
Pushed out beyond all navigated regions,
Exploring every cranny of the night,
Reaching out through dusky corridors
Above the sea to uninhabited shores,
Or taking undecoded human cries
Below the keel to the Atlantic crypts.
And millions undulated to the skies,
Through snow and vapour and the cloud eclipse,
Past day and night and the terrestrial air,
To add their wasted sum to a plethora
Of speed and power in those void spaces where
Light-years go drifting by Andromeda.
And yet in all that sterile plenitude
A few were harnessed to a human mood.

The cabin of the Roosevelt radio!
Three dots, three dashes, and the dots again—
(The call sign) British freighter, Antinoe.
Don't know position. Sixteen hours ago,
Rough latitude—North forty-six and ten,
Rough longitude—thirty-nine, five-eight.
Been hove-to ever since; the present rate
Of drift to East, two knots (approximate)

Fried took the message, reading nothing more
Than that a ship was sending out a call
For help, and that since noon the day before
She had not known her bearings. This was all
The cryptogram surrendered for a clue.
A fresh despatch was brought two minutes later,
The Aquitania calling—"Which of two
Should undertake location of the freighter?"
Their own positions given, 'twas agreed—
Cunarder further off by hours, pressed
To the muzzle of the storm and moving West,—
The job might therefore be assigned to Fried.

Orders were given to the wireless chief
To bring the direction-finder into play,
Capture the signals and report at brief
Periods—and the ship was on her way.
Taking his station at the binnacle,
The head-phones on, he listened while he swung
The handwheel slowly to the right until
The loop above the Pilot House that hung
The wires came broadside to the signal cry.
The sounds grew fainter, faded out, came back
With further revolution but to die
Again with the reversal of the track.
Underneath, the hair-line on the face
Of the dummy compass card had kept its pace
With every move, faithful to every trial,
And like a dogma that might take denial
From neither sense nor reason, pointed There,
At a figure stamped in black upon the dial:
For when it moved to either side with the wheel,
It came back ever with the aerial square
To the source of the signal like a steadying keel
Demanding its position. How far? Where,
Along this line, now tossing like a chip
Upon those crests and hollows, lay the ship,
It could not tell—one hundred miles or two
It might have been for all the seamen knew.

Back in the wireless room the call came in
With the staccato of a bulletin;
Triads of notes spare and reiterant,
A whistle shot with burr and sibilant—
The international prelude which the sea
Beats out in storm from human veins to express
The fever pulses of its own distress.
Whether it was the sharp economy
Of pauses in the breaks, or some known trick
Of the ear to catch the timbre of a click,
A pressure or a crotchet in the tapping,
The operator felt some one was rapping
A message out with white intensity,
In life-death finger action on a key,
Within the cabin of the Antinoe.
Tarpaulins ripped. Another hatch let go.
Bad list. Grain swelling fast. Seams loosening now.
All lifeboats gone from starboard davits. How
Many knots are you making? How far away
Do you reckon you are?
                                                Ten knots: now eight:
Now ten—top speed allowed by sea.
                                                                        You say
That we sound nearer to you? Cannot wait
Much longer.
                                                Find it hard to steer,
Ice-chest has crashed into the steering gear.

Six o'clock. Now seven. The dots
Of the freighter answered by the liner's knots,
Followed by danger when the sea would turn
And test the rivets from the stem to stern
With longitudinal blows, hurling cascades
Upon the bow, till with a burial wave
The engines instantly would stop to save
The tail-shaft from the racing of the blades.

A longer silence; and a deep suspicion.
Destruction of the ship? or loss of power?
Blindness was coming with the light of morning,
Ten minutes, twenty, now a half-an-hour.
Where are you, Antinoe?—The keys kept rapping,
But the receiving phones were dumb to space,
And in the Pilot House there came no signal,
The hand lay palsied on the compass face.

The operator meantime on the wreck
Had left his room and crossed a slushing deck,
Reporting to his captain. When he tried
Return, a wave upon the weather side
Reached and caught the last port lifeboat; smashed
It from the davits down the incline; crashed
The forward wall of the wireless cabin; sheared
It clean. Matching death with strategy,
The sailors took their chance with each spent sea;
The fragments were removed; the way was cleared;
The set put in emergency repair;
And human speech again was on the air.

Eleven o'clock. Fried knowing that he neared
The ship's position by the growing power
Of the signals slowed the Roosevelt down to scour
The closer plotted area, fighting squall
On top of storm, boring through a pall
Of snow, till at the heart of the wave-zone,
With Jack reversed, the freighter like a lone
Sea-mallard with a broken wing was seen
Ahead, lee-rail awash, taking it green
At the bow.

                        Do you wish to abandon?
                                                                        Not just yet;
Endeavouring to fix steering gear and get
Hatches secured. Water in stokehold. Grain
Cargo shifted. Trying to maintain
Sufficient steam to heave-to and survive
Till weather moderate. Crew twenty-five.
Can you spread oil to windward? Please stand-by.

But hard as the three engineers might try,
The leaks outraced the pumps. The daylight grew
To dusk, the hatches opened and the crew
Signalled for rescue. Fried a quarter mile
To windward poured his fuel oil on the sea,
Giving, that distance, what the Roosevelt lee
Afforded, edging in and backing while
He waited for a sign of the wind's subsiding,
Watching the scud of the waves, the darkening sky,
The drifting snow and the freighter heavily riding.

Then suddenly at nine as the squall increased,
With a smother of black hail the Roosevelt's light
Could not pierce through, the bridge look-out lost sight
Of the Antinoe and the wireless contact ceased.

Dead Slow! The Roosevelt took a risk as great
As if the air shook with the roar of reefs.
The wireless and the navigating chiefs
Fried summoned to the flying bridge to debate
The course. What with the hammer of the sea
To windward, and that anvil on the lee,
Judgment and will were warped by doubt. Suspend
Pursuit? Keep steerage-way and just hold on?
For at this hour with sight and hearing gone,
All felt within their blood they could depend
On nothing but an elemental trust
In bulkheads; in the physics of a dark
Equation, where with each remorseless thrust
Down to the starboard limits of the arc,
The ship should take under unheard commands
The port recoil, a pivoted keel, and then,
At the crux of the port roll find again
The firm up-heave of Atlantean hands.
On such a faith, borne in by night and snow,
Rested the riddle of the Antinoe.

Was she beyond that scurrying barricade,
To come back on a wave-lift, as a score
Of doubtful moments she had done before
When gusts had passed? Or had the Roosevelt strayed
Beyond the vernier of her calculation,
Caught suddenly by a winter vertigo,
After reaching the Antinoe's location
By a straight miracle of navigation?
But why no message? Flooded dynamo?
Followed by exhausted batteries?
The wireless room demolished by the seas?
Or aerials blown off like a wind-swept kite
From a wallowing ship beam-to and rudderless?
Or had she foundered? This the likelier guess.

The ship with unremitting search despite
The chances stacked against her, steamed on far
Into the night, past midnight and the slow
Hours, blindly heading into snow;
Not a sextant reading off a star;
No radio now with subtle fingering
Untied the snarl of the freighter's wayward course.
Nothing but log and the dead reckoning,
And the Roosevelt's instruments stating the force
Of wind, direction and the tidal stress,
Nothing but these and the wheel's luck to trail her,—
Unless there might be added to the sum
Of them an unexplored residuum—
The bone and marrow judgment of a sailor.

But all this time signals were streaming through
The ship's antennae; Solvang in collision,
Bulkheads crushed, and sinking; the Curlew
A-leak, and under jury-rig, Carlstad
Searching; Carlotta helping Orebro;
The Bremen hastening to the Laristan,
Engine trouble, serious, twenty-two
. No record of the Antinoe.

Each hour the searchlight moving on its swivel,
Traced but a wide circumference of yeast,
Bounding the clash of forces on the ocean,
With endless lorries heading for the east.
At times the sea would snow the Roosevelt under,
As shearing a wave, her bow came to the luff,
Or as she turned with sharp careening angle
To avoid a shadow, putting beam to trough.
The scent was cold by now. Few words were spoken
Between the officer-on-watch and captain;
The Antinoe was sunk by every token
And every law known to the wind and weather.

"With such a list, no shift or pumps could right her."
"A dollar flashlight! All she's got to signal."
"If she's afloat, 'twould take a hawk to sight her."
"A flash upon the weather quarter?"
Her power gone, that handlight wouldn't show
A hundred yards."
                                        "A dog's chance for a boat
To get across . . . assuming she's afloat."
"What do you reckon her drift?"
                                                                    "Port easy! Hold her!
Let her take that one on her starboard shoulder."

Feeling her shifted courses over-run,
And yet uncertain whether she should tack
Upon a chosen port or starboard track,
The baffled liner like a water-dog
Would dip her nose to the sea and then up-rear
Her head with black hawse nostrils keen to flair
A flying quarry covered by a fog.
Dawn and noon and now the afternoon.
"We picked her up"—so ran the captain's log—
"One point upon the starboard bow at four
O'clock, with nineteen hours of delay,
And sixty miles from her last known position."
Her navigating bridge was swept away;
Flooded, steam off, lights out, a closing day,—
The time again awaited Fried's decision.

To pour fuel upon the sea to assuage
Its fury; make a high-decked vessel ride
Steady; maintain sufficient weather-gage,
Four hundred tons of pressure at the side,
To avoid the crisis when a wave should toss
Her like a dinghy on the smaller ship,
Beam against beam, or stem to rail, to rip
The plates like cardboard to a double loss;
And yet mindful of this first charge, to crawl
Within a narrow margin to the hulk,
To take advantage of the liner's bulk
As windbreak for a lifeboat, and forestall
The second disappearance in a squall
Of the Antinoe;—in fine, to run a race
For a crew's life with the storm laps in advance;
To outstare Death to his salt countenance,
Made up the grim agenda on his face.

Fried took a turn upon the weather deck,
Saw little of assurance in the sky,
Came back to the lee-wing, gauging with his eye
The span his boat must cover to the wreck;
Made up his mind alone on the degree
Of risk; issued a call: in such a sea
And cause the order needed no command,
Only the heart's assent unto the hand.

The men answering the summons with a will,
Came aft; were picked for hardihood and skill.
Their names as on the shipping register:—
Robert Miller, the first officer,
Commanding; Ernest Heitman, bosun's mate,
No relative; Uno Wertanen,
Master-at-arms, aged twenty-eight, a Finn,
His mother (Helsingfors), the next of kin;
Sam Fisher; Franelich, an Austrian;
Bauer, a naturalised American;
Maurice Jacobowitz of New York State;
And a Dane named Alexander Fugelsang—
Made up the lifeboat complement of eight.

A dozen orders from the bosun rang—
"Stand by and clear the falls for running; man
The cranks; let go the gripes." Winch ropes began
To move, winding through the leading blocks;
Slowly the boat was lifted from the chocks.
The crew holding suspended lines that ran
Along the spring-stay, freeboards from the stern
To bow were jacked to gunwales; at a turn
Of the quadrant screw both boat and davit swung
Outboard. The oars and boat-hooks kept her free.
With painters taut at fore and aft, she hung
For her sixty feet of journey to the sea.

Below, like creatures of a fabled past,
From their deep hidings in unlighted caves,
The long processions of great-bellied waves
Cast forth their monstrous births which with gray fang
Appeared upon the leeward side, ran fast
Along the broken crests, then coiled and sprang
For the boat impatient of its slow descent
Into their own inviolate element.
A shout or instant gesture of the hand
Was answered by the double roar of winches.
The ropes ran through the iron cleats by inches,
Straining, checking, running on demand
Of the fore-and-after levels. "Lower away!"
A steady longer roar, then a moment clear
Of the side. "Avast! Let go releasing gear!"
The blocks shot from the slip-links evenly,
And number one had settled on the sea.

Here was a trial far beyond her training;
Her tests had been accorded her in weather,
And in blue water where there was no danger,—
Where, governed by the stroke, all pull together,
And every rhythmic blade falls to the feather
Against the breeze. Now like a colt untried,
She bucked control and though she carried well
The lop of the shorter waves, she plunged and shied
The moment that she reached the top of a swell,
And went down sidling to the trough and flung
The crew in the water. Under discipline
Of many a drill, they struggled back and clung
To the running loops and cork-grips, clambered in,
And started for the wreck; but with recall
From the bridge, they brought her to the wind and tried
Over a wave-barrel to reach the side
Of the ship when, twenty feet away, a squall
Combined with tide-rip caught the boat and threw
The men back to the waves. Six of the crew
Clutching ladders and lines which might afford
A toe or finger hold were drawn aboard.
Heitman, crushed between the ship and boat,
Slipped from a life-buoy and was seen to float
Senseless away, down by the liner's stern,
Where he was lost under the wave and churn
Of the propeller. Wertanen, who twice
And willingly released his own firm grip
To take within his teeth a rope eye-splice,
Swam fifteen yards to leeward of the ship
To help an exhausted mate, and paid his price
In drifting past the adventure of return.
By help of current and by desperate swim,
A wave pitched him against the lifeboat stern.
He clutched the running-line and then the rim
Of the gunwale; tried to get his weight athwart,
But oil had greased his hands and he fell short.
The crew could see him grab and plunge and cling,
Using his legs as rudders so to swing
Her head around to the wreck and with the sheer
Abandon of his youth to try to steer
His open, wilful, single-handed craft
So close to the side that wind might bear it aft,
And round the freighter's stern to where he knew
Lifebelts and lines were waiting, with the crew
Gathered at the lee taffrail. Jockeying the boat
Within three fathoms length he tried to grip
A belt, but oil had made his fingers slip,
And oil was in his eyes and in his throat,
And the last thing sighted from the liner's deck,
Near to the close of an hour's futile searching,
Were tossing oars and a frenzied lifeboat lurching
From wave to wave, a gunshot from the wreck,
And here and there as far as might be scanned
Within the spindrift, a tide-revolving speck—
A belt perhaps or human head or hand.

From every quarter came the night confounding
The unhorizoned sea with sky and air,
And to the crew of the Antinoe—despair.
At ten o'clock the Roosevelt bugle sounding
From the saloon stairway a call to prayer!

With separated phrase and smothered word
An immemorial psalm became a blurred
Bulwark under erosion by the sea.
Beneath the maddening crashes of the wind
Crumbled the grammar of the liturgy.

God of all comfort . . .
                                                  humbly beseeching thee . . .
We do acknowledge . . . . . . . . . . sinned . . .
Most merciful . . . confess . . . grievously . . .
Who spreadest out the heavens, crownest the years.
. . . . . . . . . . Grant us we pray thee . . . . .
Who commandest the seas and they do obey thee.
Nigh unto all . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . our distresses and fears.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A father to the fatherless.

Followed the fragments of great passages:
I am the Resurrection . . . . . . . . . . . . We
. . . . . . . . . . . commit . . . . . bodies to the deep . . .
Corruptible . . . . . . . . Of those who sleep . . .
. . . . . . . . . shall put on immortality.

And then brief tributes to the seamen drowned,
While Miller and his men were ranged around,
Bandaged in head and wrist, with arms in sling,
And others who had come, despite the warning,
To take their places were envisaging
The job that lay before them in the morning.

Meanwhile outside, echoing the ritual—
Now unto Him who is able to do . . . . .
Exceeding abundantly . . . a wild antiphonal
Of shriek and whistle from the shrouds broke through,
Blending with thuds as though some throat had laughed
In thunder down the ventilating shaft;
And the benediction ended with the crack
Of a stanchion on the starboard beam, the beat
Of a loose block, with the fast run of feet,
Where a flying guy careered about the stack;
Then following the omen of a lull,
The advent of a wave which like a wall
Crashed down in volleys flush against the hull,
Lifting its white and shafted spume to fall
Across the higher decks; and through it all,
As on the dial of the telegraph,
Governed by derelict and hurricane,
Rang Stop, Full Speed Astern or Slow or Half,
The irregular pulse and cough of the engine strain,
The quick smite of the blades against a wave,
And always threat, escape, threat, then the brave
Lift of the keel, and still that breathless sink,
Dividing up the seconds, nearing the brink
Of a gray, unplumbed precipice and grave.

Within this hour a priest clothed with the whole
Habiliment and dignity of office—
Black cassock, surplice white and purple stole—
Feeling that from an older faith would come
The virtue of a rubric yet unspoken
For the transition of a soul, a crumb
Of favour from a cupboard not bereft
Of all by the night's intercessions, left
His room; climbed up the stairs; pushed through a door
Storm-wedged, and balancing along the floor
Of the deck to where a davit stood, he placed
His grip securely on a guy rope there.
Lifting up a crucifix, he faced
The starboard quarter, looking down the waste
Of the waters casting back the flickering light
Of the steamer, where two bodies without wrap
Of shroud, deprived of their deck funeral rite,
Swung to the rune of the sea's stern foster-lap.

Ego vos absolvo . . . . . . . . ab omnibus
Peccatis et censuris . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . in nomine
Patris et Filii et Spiritus . . . . .
Sancti . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Attende Domine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . et miserere
Hear . . . O stella maris . . . Mary.

But no Gennesaret of Galilee
Conjured to its level by the sway
Of a hand or a word's magic was this sea,
Contesting with its iron-alien mood,
Its pagan face, its own primordial way,
The pale heroic suasion of a rood.
And the absolving Father, when the ship
Righted her keel between two giant rolls,
Recrossed himself, and letting go his hold,
Returned to berth, murmuring God rest their souls.

And now throughout the middle of the night,
The Roosevelt took the hurricane, hove-to.
Into her own defence the captain knew
Must enter all the sinews of her fight—
Her searchlight ripping fissures as through dark
Parchment where at times the freighter, set
In a frame of tossing silver, showed the stark
And streaming edges of her silhouette,
Battered but yet miraculously afloat,
Heaving, subsiding with her lathered flank,
Like a bison smitten from the loin to shank,
Surrendering to the wolves about her throat.

And every hour in the wireless room,
The shards of cries, as by an incantation,
Were joined to an Atlantic orchestration;
Epic and drama rising to illume
Disaster—now the call and now reply;
The Bremen radio—"still standing by
The Laristan. Six rescued. Will resume
At daylight."
                                "Solvang lost. All saved but two."
"Sparta reported foundering. Left no clue."
Daylight and wreckage. Bremen calling still—
"The Laristan gone down with rest of crew."

With every tap of key, the Roosevelt knew
How little would the game depend on skill
Of hand or resolution of the will,
How much would all the morrow's gain and loss
Turn on the unknown chances of a toss.

At four o'clock the Roosevelt moved to windward,
And drew again upon her fuel tanks;
Only the whitened edges left the combers,
Like a growth of harvest stubble from the banks
Of rolling prairies that a fire had gleaned.
Still black and dangerous stretches intervened.
At six o'clock the flag at the mast-head
Was lowered half-high in token of her dead,
And the Red Ensign on the freighter went
To the same place in mute acknowledgment.
Then back to their full height the flags were run,
To snap out like the folds of a toreador:
With so much on the boards still to be done,
'Twas fitting that they should, in that same breath
With which the storm took the salute, restore
The colours to their stations, baiting death.

At noon the starboard list began to assume
The final margin for the Antinoe,
The signal flags reporting that below
The sea was filling up the engine room.

The next attempt was with the Lyle gun.
Fried edged his vessel nearer to the wreck,
Trying for the safest, shortest run
To get a line across the after-deck.
But once again an adverse hand conspired
Against the chance, checkmated the design,
For at the muzzle as the gun was fired,
The steel projectile snapped the messenger line.
The second did the same, the third, and so
The fourth; the five succeeding carriers trailed
Their lines midway; the last, the eleventh, failed;
Only the iron passed the Antinoe.

The store of rockets next—but what availed
Their slender shafts and powder charges scaled
Against the weight of vapour, wind and snow?

An empty cask was lowered with the hope
The wind might carry it to the ship's side.
It sank beneath its sagging weight of rope.

Another stroke of rescue was devised.
A lifeboat was trailed off without a crew;
It climbed, zigzagged and floundered, plunging through,
But pitched against the freighter and capsized.

Fried tried again, placing his ship to looard
Less than a hundred yards. The next boat moored
By a line rove through the high block of the kingpost
On the quarter-deck, was towed close to the stern
Of the Antinoe, but with the luff of the Roosevelt
To the weather side, the rope sagged at the turn;
Went underneath and fouled, and number three
Started to drift beyond recovery.

Another night, the third, confronted Fried,
When the last remnant of the sky was blown
Out, with the ocean like a pampas stirred
To the confusion of a great stampede—
Riot of lariat and hoof, of spurred
Horses, and the Antinoe a thrown
Spent rider overtaken by the herd.

Wednesday morning! and the twenty-five
Huddled on the aft deck—still alive.
One hundred hours had passed since the men had known
The wool-warmth of a bunk, or stood the cold
With nourished veins; and sleep had taken hold
Of tired bodies salt-drugged to the bone.
And in that hundred hours eternity
Had ticked its lazy seconds on the sea,
Timing the wind and surge and the defeat
Of day by night; of night by day; the slow
Unreasoned alternation of the sleet
With hurrying phantoms of the hail and snow;
The same rotation on the deck—the gray
Sterility of hope with each lifeboat gone,
Dusk followed by the night, and every dawn
A slattern offering dust instead of day.

During the night the fact was plain the gun
Would by such lavish firing soon outrun
The standard stock of carriers and consume
The packing cord; so in the engine room
A humming lathe was making up arrears,
In cutting blocks of steel; in fashioning
Projectiles and their rods; and engineers,
Following a passenger's design,
Were busy in construction of a spring,
A spiral coil to graduate the strain
Of the steel rod upon the carrying line
At the initial instant of the shots.
And knowing how the day ahead would drain
Resources, men began to overhaul
The cordage, making loops for arms and knots
For hand-grips, culling big stuff from the small
For nets and heaving-lines and ladders,—all
Which might be spared out of the essential store,
From cargo-slings to the stout rope from the fall
Of a wrecked lifeboat davit. Others toiled
For hours, whaler-fashion, over the four
Containing tubs, undid the twists, and coiled
The messenger line many thousand feet,
From vertical core to the end-loop with neat
Precision. So when morning came it seemed
Defaulted effort now might be redeemed,
For though the seventh shot burst free and sped
Away beyond the wreck, it carried true,
Trailing sufficient line to lay it dead
On the poop deck in centre of the crew.

A heavier rope made fast was pulled aboard,
And when the Roosevelt's boat was safely lowered,
Another paying off through fairleads gave
What help it could to the wavering bow control.
The boat without a load mounted each wave,
Righting herself from every plunge and roll,
Covered the stretch of water like a gull,
Until within five fathoms of the hull,
She turned broadside in an attempt to scale
A sea, the bow line chafed against the rail
And snapped, the stern line gave, and number four
Followed her sisters of the day before.

And so the latter half of the fourth day
Came with the ocean well astride its prey:
The storm in front like a shifty pugilist,
Watching for some slight turn of luck to slay
The rescuer with an iron-knuckled fist.
'Twas useless for the Roosevelt to await
The issue of the struggle by debate.
For nothing in those skies favoured a sign
That by manoeuvre could the fight be won—
By floating cask or breeches-buoy or line,
Mere parleying with rockets and a gun.
The hour had called for argument more rife
With the gambler's sacrificial bids for life,
The final manner native to the breed
Of men forging decision into deed—
Of getting down again into the sea,
And testing rowlocks in an open boat,
Of grappling with the storm-king bodily,
And placing Northern fingers on his throat.

The call again, and number five was ready.
The men were chosen and the davits swung;
The boat moved outward easily and hung
Level and snug to leeward but unsteady
In the capricious pockets of the squall.
Another order and the falls began
To move—eight men inside her; Alfred Wall,
Araneda, Diaz, Albertz, Hahn,
Upton, Roberts, Miller in command.
The gunwale fended off with oar and hand
At every lurch, she managed luckily
To clear the steamer's side, covering the steep
Descent, and then undamaged took the sea.
Three oars aside and with a steering sweep,
The boat pulled out from the immediate lee
Into the eddies where the waters met
From stern and bow,—where the last ounces put
On the oars, even with the wind abaft, could yet
Advance them only by the inch and foot.
They followed down the beam-path of the searchlight,
The Roosevelt all the while manoeuvring,
Now drawing in, now clawing off, and now
Dead close, beam to the wind, just shadowing
The brute drive of the freighter, to allow
The boat with heavy lateral drift to steer
With wider berth into the wind and clear
The danger of the surge around the bow.
A swamping moment caught her, but each blade
Flexed to the curve of snapping, Miller made
The turn and came down sharp broadside to gain
A point amidships that he might obtain
Such shelter as this windbreak could afford.
But the wells were under water and the lee
Was like the surf of breakers, for the sea,
Contemptuous of this man-made sunken mole,
Threatened each time to hurl the boat aboard,
And reach the funnel with resurgent roll.
Escaping this disaster, Miller drew
His boat back in the sea, and tried to creep
Forward to higher freeboard where the crew
Near the First Hatch might have the shortest leap.
Backwatering and staving off the hull,
And crawling in again with a slight lull
Of the wind, or with recession of the surge,
He took three men who on the perishing verge
Of sleep fell from the rail to the thwarts and slumped
To the floor-boards. Out and back once more
With slow manoeuvring, and another four
Secure. Others of tougher sinew jumped
To the stern sheets from the rail. The task was done
With sudden moves and checks like a strange play
Which starts, is forced to stop, and then begun
Afresh on unknown ground but under sway
Of old Olympian rules. So one by one
The lives were scored, and those who missed their aim,
And fell into the sea, were grabbed and pulled
Over the gunwale; counted with the same
Slow chalking up as of advances bulled
Out of the fiery scrimmage of a game.

Miller tried to close again but failed.
With water shipped as fast as it was bailed,
Seams leaking, twelve half-dead men barely stowed,
And with his crew of eight he did not dare
To give his boat a more unstable load;
So pushed away and with the wind and tide
In favour, forced her water-logged to where
The Roosevelt, now round to leeward, showed
A maze of lines and ladders on her side.
The first instalment of the crew too numb
To lay their hands on heaving-lines were placed
Within the cargo-nets and drawn up plumb;
The others taking ropes, with their feet braced
Against the hull went up with the sheer lift
Of their mates, till all were safe aboard, and now
The lifeboat number five with damaged bow
And broken hoisting hooks was cast adrift.

The pitch of the storm, late night and still the snow,
Two hundred yards between of yawning space,
And thirteen sailors on the Antinoe.
Three nights upon the bridge behind the shield
Of the canvas dodger, his accustomed place,
Fried doubtful, peering with his blizzard face.
Now one o'clock, and a slight rift revealed
A spatter of light above the running seas—
The freighter's lantern jabbing out in Morse
That the ship's list had reached fifty degrees.
The last hour was on with no recourse
Except another summons to the crew.
Miller commanding for the third time drew
From the line-up of forty volunteers
Of every rank,—deck-hand to passenger,
His four uninjured veterans and five new
Hands: Thomas Sloan, the third officer;
Reidel; Wilke; Deck Yeoman Wilson Beers;
And Caldwell, messman to the engineers.

The sixth lifeboat was ready on the lee.
The others stood a moment in review;
Three hundred passengers, two hundred crew;
The cut was getting near the artery.
The men, lowered without mishap, once more
Brought round the boat to the lee bow of the freighter,
And ranged her off the First Hatch as before.
The risk this time for boat and ship was greater;
The growing list could take no steeper verge,
And all the boatmanship could not avail
At first against the backwash of the surge;
For there was peril in the sunken rail,
When at uncertain moments the ship tried
For balance, lifting up a wounded side
To ease a wave that struck amidships, cleaving
Her port; and peril in those hours of doubt
For strengthless men that watched their comrades leaving,
And long the galley fires had been out.
Fried shortened up his weather gage to try—
To give a double shelter to the lifeboat:
The message later read—"Had to rely
Upon the final power of my engines,
For had a revolution failed,—'twas either
Roosevelt or Antinoe with odds on neither."
The revolution did not fail, and Miller
Secured his men, and though with cracked air-tank,
And all the spare oars rent in hull-collision,
The boat came down the wind to the lee flank
Of the liner where the remnant with their clothes
Sodden and shrunk were, like drowsed children, gathered
To the cargo hammocks, twelve of them, then Tose,
The captain, who had worn his buttons well.

His bread had now returned upon the waters,
For ten years back, as later stories tell,
He had while master of another vessel,
Rescued a Philadelphian bark in seas
And winds only less full of death than these.

Now open throttles! Now my lads, YOHO!
The twenty-five, by Neptune, every one!
Captain to deck-hand, every mother's son
The sea had closed on forward deck and bow;
Let flag and mast and funnel settle now.
Frost-bitten, thinned in blood, gnarled to the bone,
But everyone surviving. All were brought
Below where ocean miracles are wrought,
Where the hearts' furnaces are stoked and blown,
Where men are shepherded in the old way
Of the sea, where drowned men come to life, they say,
Under such calls to breathe as never come
To those that roam the uplands of this earth:—
The hearty comradeship of a foc's'le berth,
With treble-folded blankets on their numb
Bodies, with balsam thawing out the brain,
Hot milk and coffee piping down their dumb
Constricted throats and mustard scattering pain,—
When cold half-foundered bellies steam again
Under the red authority of rum.

The siren! Never did a whistle blow
Upon a ship at sea like this before.
The notes came from a silver throat aglow
With life and triumph. Steady blast to roar
Rising to pitch and volume that would crow
The daybreak in. A shorter blast,
A mimic of halloo, followed by fast
Merry little runs in tremolo,
And then again with open throat the long
Insistent call with pauses, thrills and strong
Leaping crescendos.
                                            Vital, sound and steady,
For the first hour in days was heard to start
The normal rhythm of the liner's heart;
Her bearings bathed, her boilers breathed and ready
For the ports of England. The fifth morning found her
With high gales still and white seas all around her,
But clean in every valve and with the main
Play of her steam free on each turbine-vane.

Another day and the back of the storm was broken.
The snow and hail had ceased; the clouds rode high;
And though the wind remained, the glass gave token
Of fairer weather. Through a rift of sky
A level shaft, the first one for the week,
Quivered on an edge of cloud, then struck
A line of foam making for the grey peak
Of a kingpost, then to waterline from truck,
Till from the starboard taffrail up the span
Of the hull, it reached the lettering where it ran
In crimson coronation of her name,
As if a god might thus salute the deed,
And ratify the venture with the screed
Of an aurora milled in solar flame.

The Lizard Point, and now the Eddystone!

Meanwhile a nation which was never spared
The discipline of waters, had prepared
Her subjects' hearts from foc's'le to throne
With this Atlantic record to attest
The valour of the eagle from the west,
In bringing home her brood of castaways.
For there had come through radiogram and wire
As high romance as any since the days,
When Grecian sails and the triremes of Tyre
Hailed Carthaginian ships upon the bays
Of the Aegean. So she entered Plymouth,
With crusted funnel, twisted rails, scoured clean
By salt on every deck, and overdue;
Yet with the bearing of a Viking Queen,—
Prerogative of life within her hand.
She anchored in the roadstead, while the crew
Of the wrecked ship were taken to the land.
The nation gave its thanks on board; and she,
Soon ready for completion of her run,
Swung out the Sound, with her day's work well done,
And in an hour was on the Channel sea.




[The end of The Roosevelt and the Antinoe by E. J. (Edwin John Dove) Pratt]