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Life Saving Stations by Rebecca Harding Davis


With their enthusiasm fairly kindled for the work which the government carries on in the signal-service department of the little house on the beach, our exploring party descended the narrow ladder and found themselves in a ten-by-twelve room, warmed by a stove and surrounded by benches. It is used, the old captain who has volunteered as guide tells us, by the men on the life-saving service during the nine months in which they are on duty. A cheerful fire was burning in the stove, and we gathered about it: the wind blew a stronger gale each moment outside, barring out the far sea-horizon with a wall of gray mist. The tide rolled up on the shelving beach beneath the square window with a sullen, treacherous roar.

"It's the bar that gives the sea that sound," said the captain. "This is the ugliest bit of coast for vessels from Nova Scotia to Florida. It's like this," drawing his finger across the table in the vain effort to map out the matter intelligibly to a landsman's comprehension. "Here's the Jersey coast. You've got to hug it close with your vessel to make New York harbor—there; and all along it, from Sandy Hook to Cape May, runs the bar—so. Broken, but so much the worse. A nor'-easter drives you on it, sure. I've known from sixteen to twenty wracks in a winter on this coast before the companies or government took up the matter."

"That only argued bad seamanship," said one of his listeners. "When every ship's captain knew the bar—"

"That's precisely what they didn't know. It alters with every year; and on a dark night, with a driving sea and wind both against you, there's small chance of clearing it. However, I don't mean to say that all of them vessels were wracked fair and square. It got to be customary with owners of wornout coast-schooners to send them out with light cargoes and run them on the Jersey bar. The captain and crew would time it so's they could get ashore, and the sea would soon break up the vessel, and then up they goes to York for insurance on ship and cargo. There was a good deal of that sort of work went on when I was a boy, until the underwriters got wind of it and established the wracking system."

"This building?—"

"No, no! Don't confound the two things. This is government work altogether, and maintained solely for the saving of life. The crew of the lifeboat here are not allowed to touch a pound of freight or baggage on a wracked ship. The wracking-masters were appointed and paid by the board of underwriters in New York. Old Captain Brown was general agent on this beach. They took the coast in charge, as you might say, long before this government service was started. It was managed—like this," resorting again to his finger and the imaginary lines on the table. "A vessel came ashore on the bar. The first man who saw it gave warning to the wracking-master, who took command of the men ashore and the cargo in behalf of the insurance companies."

"Were there any signals then to rouse the coast in case of wreck?"

"Lord save you! no: every man warned his neighbor. There weren't but a few scattered folks along the coast then, but in time of a wrack you'd see them in the dead of night ready and waiting along the beach. No need of your signal-flags for them, I reckon. They knew there'd be dead men and plenty of wrack coming ashore before morning."

"And every man was ready to go out in his boat?" cried an enthusiastic townsman, "or to carry a line to the sinking ship?"

"Well—hardly," said the captain with a dry smile. "Folks that know the water don't go exactly that way to work. There was regular wracking-boats, built for the surf, and crews for each, you see: best man in the starn. The man in the starn, he generally owned the boat and chose his crew. Picked men. He kept them year after year. Then the wracking-masters hired him, his boat and his crew. Best crew chosen first, of course. Two dollars a day each was reckoned good pay. They got famous names, some of them surfboat crews," reflectively. "There was William Chadwick—Bill Shattuck he goes by—his crew was known from Sandy Hook to Hatteras. There's one of them now: he can tell you about it better than me.—Hello, Jake!"

We looked out of the window and saw the fisherman whom we had met in the afternoon lazily drawing his slow length along the beach, two or three blue mackerel dangling from his hand: he had not enough of energy, apparently, to hold them up. This was the fellow whom, an hour before, we had pitied as a dull soul to whom the wreck was "timber" and the life-saving station a "shed." We all had a vague ideal before us of a gallant sailor, with eyes of fire and nerves of steel, plunging into the cruel surf to rescue the sinking ship. We accepted the slouching Jacob instead with disrelish. He was not the stuff of which heroes in books are made.

"Jake," said the captain, "where is Shattuck's boat now? I was speaking of it to the gentlemen here."

"Take a cigar," interpolated one of the party.

Jacob took a cigar, bit off the end and dropped easily into a seat: "Bill's boat? Well, it's drawed up ashore at the head of Barnegat—down there. You kin see it out of the window ef you like."

"There is very seldom any call for the surf-boats and crews in summer," explained the captain. "The men follow fishing usually. But in winter they're always ready if a ship comes on the bar."

"Your crew has done good service in saving life, I hear, Jacob?" said one of the strangers.

"Well, I dunno. We're generally the first called on by the wracking-master. Sure of the best pay. There's Shattuck and Curtis and Van Note and George Johnson, and Fleming in the starn," checking them off with his fingers—"all good men to bring off trade in a heavy pull."

"You don't mean that these surf boat crews are paid to save the cargo, and that human life is left to the care of the government?" cried a listener indignantly.

"The government undertakes the life-saving service, and we're paid by the wracking-master, certainly," said Jacob calmly. "To save the cargo. But the human bein's is took out first. Of course. As you say. It's not likely any man's a-goin' to bring trade out of a wrack's long's there's a live critter aboard."

"There's not one of these men," said the captain with a little heat in his tone, "who has not saved many a life at the risk of his own. Isn't that true, Jacob?"

"I dunno. We jist work ahead at what's got to be done. I know Van Note saved my life. The way of it was this. It was the time the Clara Brookman went down: you mind the Clara Brookman, cap'n? She was homeward bound after a long cruise—three year—and she struck the bar just below, a mile or two. It was a swashin' sea an' a black night. Our surfboat was overturned with thirteen aboard: 'leven of us was picked up by the other boat. The men, they stood in the starn an' hauled us aboard by main force—lifted us clear out of the water. Van Note's a tremendous musc'lar fellar, he is. He caught me by the wrist jest as I was goin' down for the last time: I'm not a small fish, either," slapping his brawny thigh. "Yes, sir. Van Note and I never mixed much together afore or sence. But he did that for me: I don't deny it."

"You remember some terrible scenes of suffering no doubt, Jacob?"

"Well, I've seen vessels pretty well smashed up, sir. There was the Alabama, coast-schooner: all the crew went down on her in full sight; and the Annandale: she was a coal-brig, and she run aground on a December night. It was a terrible storm: but one surfboat got out to her. They took off what they could—the women and part of the crew. I was a boy then, and I mind seein' them come ashore, their beards and clothes frozen stiff. After the boat left, some of the crew jumped into the sea, but they couldn't live in it two minutes. It was nigh dawn when the boat got out to the brig agen, and there wasn't a livin' soul aboard of her; only the body of the mate lashed tight to the mainmast, a solid mass of ice. He couldn't be got down, and I've heerd my father say it was awful to see him, with one hand held out as if p'intin' to shore, rockin' to and fro there overhead till the brig went under. Months after, some of the bodies of the crew was thrown up by the tide; they was as fresh as if they'd jest gone to sleep."

"How could that be? Where had they been?"

"Sucked into the sand. Them heavy nothe-easters always throws up a bar, an' they was sucked under it. When the bar give way the tide threw them up. But as soon as the air tetched them they began to moulder."

There was a short silence. The evening was gathering fast, cold and threatening, the little fire threw our shadows high up on the wall, and the wail of the wind and thunder of the incoming tide gave a ghastly significance to this matter-of-fact catalogue of horrors. As we looked through the little window at the vast gray plain of water, it seemed as if every wave covered a wreck or dead men's bones.

"Now, George Johnson," continued Jacob, "he was the first man as saw the John Minturn come ashore. That was the worst storm I ever seen on this coast.—You mind it, cap'n?"

The captain nodded gravely: "February 15, 1846. It was the night old Phoebe Hall died, and I was sitting with the body when I heerd the guns fired from the Minturn," he remarked.—"But go on, Jacob," waving his pipe.

"The current was a-settin' south. Sech a tide hadn't been knowd sence the oldest men could remember: the sea broke over all the mashes clear up to the farm-houses. Well, sir, I was but a lad, but I couldn't sleep: seemed as ef I ought to be a doin' something, I didn't rightly know what. About three o'clock in the morning I heerd a gun, and in a minute another, 'Mother,' I says, 'there's a vessel on the bar.' So, as I gets on my clothes, she makes me a mug of hot coffee. 'You must drink this, Jacob, an' eat some'at,' she says, 'before you go out.' So to quiet her I takes the mug, but I hadn't half drunk it when I hears shouting outside. It was one of the Shattucks: he says, 'There's a ship come ashore up by Barnegat' I says, 'No,' I says: 'the guns are from off the inlet.' So I runs one way, and Shattuck the other. The night was dark as pitch, and the storm drivin' like hell. And we was both right, for there was two vessels—a coast-schooner down by Squan, where I goes, and this big ship, the John Minturn, just here," pointing with his thumb over his shoulder to the beach outside and bar beyond.

"Were there many lives lost?"

"Over three hundred—all but fourteen. They come ashore tied on to boards or hencoops or the like—seven of the crew and seven passengers. We tried to launch the surfboat, but the boat was never built that could live on that sea. She was bound from New Orleans to New York, and the most of her passengers were wealthy people, going to the North for the winter. At least, so we jedged from her papers and the bodies and clothes of them that come ashore—some pretty little children, I mind, babies and their black nurses, and their mothers—delicate women with valooable rings on their hands. Some of them's buried in the graveyard in the village, and their friends took some away."

"There was the Minerva, too," said the captain as Jacob paused to light his cigar again. "I forgit how many emigrants went down on that ship, but I remember picking up on the beach next day a clay pipe, with a stem nigh a yard long, not even chipped. It seemed curious that a useless thing like that should be washed safe ashore and hundreds of human lives be lost. And there was the New Era—went down near Deal: three hundred emigrants drowned. The captain had nailed down the hatches on them. Oh, that's generally done," he added, seeing the look of horror on our faces: "in a storm the steerage can't be managed otherwise."

"I remember," said one of the listeners, "an incident which occurred when I was in China about ten years ago. Five hundred Chinese soldiers were being taken across the Inland Sea to quell an insurrection: when off Hoang-Ho the ship sprung a leak. The boats could only give a chance of escape to about eighty. The troops were all ordered on deck, while a detachment was selected to fill the boats. The rest remained immovable, standing under arms without a word, until the ship went down."

Somebody reminded him of the story of the Birkenhead, which sank within four miles of the English coast with a regiment aboard that was coming home after five years' absence in India. They too stood in solid rank on deck, their homes almost in sight, while the women and children were taken off and the ship slowly sank, the officers, with swords drawn, presenting arms to Death.

"Discipline! discipline!" said the captain. "But one wouldn't have looked for it in them heathen Chinees."

Duty! duty! we thought, and were quite sure heathenism had never interfered with that kind of heroism.

"Now, the usual run of American sailors," said Jacob, who felt by this time that his final verdict was needed, wouldn't have done that. Passengers is easier managed in time of a storm than sailors, especially them of coast-ships. Passengers is like sheep: they're so skeert they'll do what you bids 'em; but the sailors broach the liquor first thing. I'd rather manage so many pigs than sailors when they get holt of the grog. There was the City of New York. When she went down the mate stood with a club in his hand to keep the crew off the Scotch ale which was part of the freight. Well; sir, they got it, and thar they stayed, drinkin', till the vessel parted amidships: couldn't be got off no-how. There was three hundred passengers landed from that ship. We used the apparatus for her: government had taken hold of the matter then."

"Before we say anything about the government service, one question about the Jersey wreckers. They bear a bad name. The story goes that the Barnegat pirates in old times drew vessels ashore by false lights, and plundered the shipwrecked people. How about that, Jacob? Honestly, now!"

"Well, sir, them stories is onjust. Them men as is called Barnegat pirates are not us fishermen—never were: they're from the main—colliers and sech—as come down to a wrack, and they will have something to kerry home when they're kept up all night. They do their share of stealin', I'll confess; but from Sandy Hook to Cape May it's innocent to what is done on Long Island. It's the stevedores and rigger-men on Long Island—reg'lar New York roughs. No man or woman was ever robbed on this beach till they was dead. Of course I don't mean their trunks and sech, but not the body. The Long Islanders cut off the fingers of livin' people for rings, but the Barnegat men never touch the body till it's dead. No, sir."

"And you understand," interposed the captain eagerly, "these Barnegat robbers are a very different class from Jacob and the crews of surf boats?"

"Certainly. We understand the noble work which these wrecking-crews have done.—By the way, how do they choose their captain, Jacob—the man in the stern, as you call him? The most brave, heroic fellow, I suppose?"

"I dunno about that," with a perplexed air. "We don't calcoolate much on heroism and sech: we choose the man that's got the best judgment of the sea—a keerful, firm man. These six men hes got to obey him—hes got to put their lives altogether in his hand, you see. They don't want a headlong fellow: they want a man that knows the water—thorough."

"Besides," added the captain, "it is as with any other business—the best crew is surest of employment and pay. Each owner of a wracking-boat chooses his men for their muscle and skill: and the wracking-master chooses the best boat and crew. There's competition, competition. On the contrary, the life-saving service, like all other government work, for a good many years fell into the hands of politicians: the superintendent was chosen because he had given some help to his party, and he appointed his own friends as lifeboat-men, often tavern loafers like himself. A harness-maker from Bricksburg held the place of master of the station below here for years—a man who probably never was in a boat, and certainly would not go in one in a heavy sea."

"One would hardly expect to find fishermen in this solitary corner of the world struggling for political preferment on the seats of a lifeboat," laughed one of the party.

But the captain could see no joke in it: "Well, sir, it's a fact that it was done. And the consequence was, the people's money was thrown away, and hundreds of human beings was left to perish within sight of land. If the administration—"

But while the captain and his companions labor over the well-trodden road thus opened, we will look into the work done in the house on the beach with the help of authorities more accurate than himself and Jacob.

Oddly enough, the first effort anywhere to stop the enormous loss of human life by shipwreck was made by that most selfish of rulers, George IV., and the first lifeboat was built by a London coachmaker, Lukin, who, it is said, had never seen the sea. After that other models of lifeboats were produced in England, none of which proved satisfactory until in 1850 the duke of Northumberland offered one hundred guineas as a prize for the best model, which was gained by James Beeching. A modification of his boat is now used by the National Lifeboat Institution, to which the entire care of the English life-saving service is committed. There is probably no object on which the British nation has more zealously expended sentiment, enthusiasm and money than this service, yet despite its grand record of work done there can be no doubt that it has been grossly mismanaged, and is ineffective to cope with the actual need. The roll of the National Lifeboat Institution numbers names of the most noble, humane and wealthy men and women in Great Britain; the queen is its patron; its resources are amply sufficient; no pains have been spared to secure the most scientific and perfect appliances. The whole work is made, in a degree, a matter of sentiment—exalted and humane sentiment, but, like all other emotional service, apt to be gusty and at times unpractical. The man who saves human life is rewarded with silver or gold medals: the individual lifeboats are themes of essays and song, and when one wears out a tablet is raised with the record of its services. It is the beautiful and touching custom, too, for mourners to offer a memorial lifeboat to the memory of their dead, instead of a painted window or a showy monument. But with all this genuine feeling and actual expenditure of time and money the fact remains that the loss of human life from shipwreck is five hundred per cent. larger on the coast of Great Britain than on our own, although there are 242 stations on their comparatively small extent of shore, and but 104 on our whole Atlantic seaboard. In three cases of shipwreck on the English coast in 1875 the loss of life was directly traceable to the lack of some necessary appliance or to the absence of guards at the stations. In one instance there were no means of telegraphing for boats or aid: in the case of the Deutschland, as late as last November, where the disaster occurred on a stretch of coast known as the most dangerous in England (except that of Norfolk)—a spot where shipwrecks have been numbered literally by thousands—there was no lifeboat nor any means of taking a line to the ship. The secret of these failures lies in the fact that the institution relies for its work on spontaneous service and emotion, and is not, like ours, a legalized, systematic business. No permanent force or watch is kept at the stations: a reward of seven shillings is paid to anybody who gives notice of a wreck to the coxswain of the boat. The crews of the boats are volunteers, and if they do not happen to report themselves at the time of a disaster, their places are filled with any good oarsmen who offer. In short, the whole system is based upon the occasional zeal and heroism of men, instead of tried and paid skill, fitness for the work and a simple sense of duty.

Our own life-saving service is founded on wholly different principles. It dates from 1848, when Hon. William Newell of New Jersey (incited probably by the recent terrible loss of the John Minturn, of which the captain told us) brought before Congress the frightful dangers of the coast of that State, and procured an appropriation of ten thousand dollars for "providing surf boats, carronades, etc. for the better protection of life and property from shipwreck on the coast between Sandy Hook and Little Egg Harbor." The next session a similar appropriation was obtained. Small houses were built and furnished, but no persons were paid or authorized to take charge of them, and the business was managed in the well-meaning but slipshod English fashion. In 1854 the wreck of the Powhatan on Squan Beach and the loss of three hundred lives produced a storm of public indignation which aroused Congress, and twenty thousand dollars were appropriated for lifeboats, etc. for the coast of New Jersey, and a similar sum for the ocean side of Long Island. A superintendent was appointed for each coast and a keeper for each of the houses, but for sixteen years no regular crews were employed. It was during this period, too, that the petty offices of superintendent and keeper became the reward of small village politicians, and wreckers who, like Jacob, had worked for years without pay in saving human life, showed their righteous indignation at these political favorites by refusing to work under them. Several terrible disasters in the winter of 1870 and '71 called public attention again to the subject, and Captain John Faunce was appointed by the department to inspect the coast and the stations. He reported the houses as generally in a filthy, dilapidated condition, and often so far gone as to be worthless; the apparatus rusty, and many of the most necessary articles wanting; in some stations nothing which could be carried away was left; the keepers were utterly unfit for their position, and the crews which they employed worse. Yet, notwithstanding this mismanagement and lack of system, and although no regular official record had been kept, there was proof that 4163 lives had been saved and $716,000 worth of property.

In 1871, S.I. Kimball, to whom the Revenue Marine Bureau was then given in charge, proceeded to completely reorganize the service. New houses were built or the old ones repaired and enlarged; competent men were appointed as keepers, and strict orders given as to the selection of experienced and skillful surfmen as crews; the houses were thoroughly furnished with every appliance requisite in time of disaster, for which the keeper is held responsible. The average distance between the stations is three miles. Immediate proof of the efficacy of the improvements in the service was given, as in the twenty-two wrecks occurring that season on the Long Island and New Jersey coasts not a single life was lost. In a word, Mr. Kimball began successfully the seemingly hopeless task of converting the dirty, ruinous station-houses and their lazy, disorderly keepers and crews, scattered along the coast, to the order, discipline and efficiency of forts and drilled soldiers, and the result proved that order and discipline, when evolved out of the worst materials, can grapple with and conquer even the sea. In 1873 the seventy-one station-houses were increased to eighty-one, the line having been extended along the coasts of Cape Cod and Rhode Island. Congress having appropriated one hundred thousand dollars for the establishment of new stations, twenty-three were contracted for, giving the Maine coast five; New Hampshire, one; Massachusetts, five; Virginia, two; North Carolina, ten. The connection between the life-saving and storm-signal service was effected at several stations, thus supplying telegraphic communication between the department and the coast outposts. This, probably, was the most marked advance made by the service: it was the nerve-line which brought the working members under control of an intelligent head. In thirty-two wrecks occurring during the year on the coasts where stations were established but one life had been lost.

The unprecedented success of the service to this point justified its demand for larger means and fuller powers. In the last session of the Forty-second Congress a bill was introduced by Hon. John Lynch of Maine to provide for the establishment of additional stations on the North Atlantic seaboard, and directing the Secretary of the Treasury to report the points on the entire sea and lake coasts at which stations would best subserve the interests of humanity and commerce, with estimates of the cost. This bill passed, and was approved March 3, 1873. The commission appointed consisted of Mr. Kimball, Captain John Faunce and Captain J.H. Merryman. Their report is the result of minute examination into the wrecks and disasters on every mile of coast for the previous ten years—a research into ghastly horrors for a practical end unparalleled perhaps in accuracy and patience. They recommended the erection of twenty-three life-saving stations complete, twenty-two lifeboat stations and five houses of refuge. The first class, containing all appliances for saving life on stranded vessels, and manned by regular crews during the winter months, were for flat beaches with outlying bars distant from settlements, and were required on certain points of the shores of the great lakes and on the Atlantic coast as far south as Hatteras. "Upon the coast of Florida the shores are so bold," the report states, "that stranded vessels are usually thrown high enough upon the beach to permit easy escape from them; therefore the usual apparatus belonging to the complete stations are not considered necessary. The section of that coast from Indian River Inlet to Cape Florida is almost destitute of inhabitants, and persons cast upon its inhospitable shores are liable to perish from starvation and thirst, from inability to reach the remote settlements." Upon these coasts it was recommended that houses of refuge should be built large enough to accommodate twenty-five persons, supplied with provisions to support them for ten days, and provided with surfboat, oars and sails. For the majority of points on the Pacific and lake coasts, where disasters were infrequent, lifeboats only were considered necessary, these in general to be manned by volunteer crews. It was proposed that these crews should be paid for services rendered at each wreck, and a system of rewards adopted in the shape of medals of honor. The estimated cost of a life-saving station complete was $5302; of a house of refuge, $2995; of a lifeboat station, $4790. A bill founded on this report was prepared by Mr. Kimball, the chief both of the Revenue Marine and Life-saving Service, and became a law June, 1874. This bill provides for the protection of the entire lake and sea-coasts of the United States by a cordon of stations, lifeboats or houses of refuge placed at all dangerous points. The stations on the Pacific coast are not yet built, but it is hoped that all will be finished and in working order by the fall of 1876. The United States will then offer to the shipwrecked voyager security and protection through her vast extent of coast such as is afforded by no other nation. The measures promoting this end were carried through Congress by Senators Newell, Stockton, Hamlin, Boutwell, Chandler and Frelinghuysen, and Representatives Lynch, Hale of Maine, Cox, Hooper and Conger. But the actual credit of this great national work of humanity is due to Sumner I. Kimball, who not only conceived the idea of the complete guarding of the coast and prepared the bill for Congress, but has reorganized the entire system and carried it out successfully in all of its minute practical details.

The work accomplished by the service may be clearly understood by a glance at the following figures. There is no record of the loss of life on stranded vessels previous to its formation in 1848. There remain only the terrible legends, such as those which the captain and Jacob told us, of numbers of emigrant ships and steamers yearly going down with three to four hundred souls on board. The coasts of Long Island and New Jersey have justly been called "the despair of mariners and shipowners." During the first twenty years of the operation of the service, despite its mismanagement, the number of lives lost yearly was reduced to an average of twenty-five. Since 1871 the period of its reorganization, the loss of life on the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island has averaged but one per annum. The report for these four years, inclusive of the whole coast guarded by stations, is—

Total number of disasters, 185
Total number of lives imperiled, 2583
Total number of lives saved, 2564
Total number of lives lost, 19
Total number of shipwrecked persons sheltered at the stations, 368
Total number of days' shelter afforded, 1307
Total value of property imperiled, $6,293,658
Total value of property saved, 4,514,756
Total value of property lost, 1,742,902

Included in this report are the fourteen lives lost on the Italian bark Giovanni near Provincetown, Cape Cod, in a storm unprecedented for its terrors. A story found its way into the papers at the time that the powder used in the mortar was damp, and that from this trifling neglect help could not be extended from the station. A strict investigation was made, and it was proved by the testimony of the people in Provincetown that all the apparatus was in perfect order and the keepers and surfmen exerted themselves heroically in aid of the doomed vessel, but that she was stranded so far from shore that it was simply impossible to reach her. In another case, that of the Vicksburg, wrecked on the Long Island coast, where a life was lost through the remissness of the keeper, the whole force of the station was discharged, and the order to that effect read to every crew in the service.

The localities of the stations and houses of refuge now legally authorized are—

Districts. Location. Stations.
1st. Coasts of Maine and New Hampshire, 6  
2d. Coast of Massachusetts, 14  
3d. Coasts of Long Island and Rhode Island, 36  
4th. Coast of New Jersey, 39  
5th. Coasts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, 8  
6th. Coasts of Virginia and North Carolina, 10  
7th. Eastern coast of Florida,   5
8th. Coasts of Lakes Ontario and Erie, 9  
9th. Coasts of Lakes Huron and Superior, 9  
10th. Coast of Lake Michigan, 12  
11th. Pacific coast, 8  

While we have been looking into these facts and figures the exploring party in the house on the beach have told many a terrible tale of shipwreck and half-hinted horrors, among others that of the ill-fated Giovanni.

"Suppose that a ship should be driven on this bar in the middle of the night, a storm raging," said one of the party, "what would then be the keeper's duty?"

The captain threw open the door of the larger room, which in the fading light looked full, but for a moment only, of ghostly shadows. There we saw boats suspended halfway from the ceiling, other mysterious apparatus ranged on either side, anchors, great cables coiled accurately in heaps, and all in as exact neatness as though upon the deck of a man-of-war.

"When a wrack is sighted," said the captain, "the signal-officer up stairs telegraphs to the other near stations, whose keepers at once send their lifeboats, cars and surfmen here. The ship is signaled—by flags in daytime, by rockets at night." He opened a closet in which were arranged the cases of lights, with books of instruction for their use. "The keepers ought to understand these as well as all other apparatus in the station, and under the new management they usually do. The keeper here is an old wracker, and has 'good judgment of the sea,' as Jacob would say. He never made harness or friends in Congress," the captain threw in with fine satire. "If the ship can be reached by a boat, this lifeboat is run into the surf. It moves on wheels, you see, and in two minutes ought to be launched and the men aboard. This ridge on the outside is an air-tight chamber for giving buoyancy. Here are the oars swung in place and the buckets for bailing, as you see."

"Is this the English lifeboat?"

"No, sir. Two years ago the service imported a lifeboat and rocket apparatus from England to test them here. The lifeboat was found to be nearly perfect, but too heavy for launching on our flat beaches with light crews: she weighed four thousand pounds. This boat was invented by Lieutenant Stodder."

"But if the sea be too heavy for the lifeboat to live in it?"

"Then we give the ship a line: the ball is fired from this mortar, the line being fastened to the shot by a spiral wire. Mortar, powder and matches are set, you see, ready for instantaneous use. The ball must be shot so that the line falls over the ship. Not an easy mark to hit in the night and the storm driving. Sometimes it is not done until after many trials: sometimes, as in the case of the Giovanni, it cannot be reached at all. I saw the Argyle go down eight years ago with all on board, after we had tried all night to reach her. One man was washed ashore, and we made a rope of hands out beyond the first breaker, and so got him in."

"The men farthest out on the line had not much better chance than he?"

"No, but the man had to be got in," carelessly. "I was going to say that as soon as the line does fall over the ship it is hauled aboard. There is a hauling-line fastened to it, and a hawser to the hauling-line. Here they all are in order. When the hawser reaches the ship it is made taut and secured to the mizzentop or mainmast, high enough to swing clear of the taffrail. It is fastened on shore by this sand-anchor. Then we send over the breeches-buoy," pointing to a complete suit of india-rubber very similar in appearance to that used by Paul Boyton. "One man can be sent safely to shore in that. But we use the life-car most frequently."

"A boat?"

"You may call it a covered boat if you will. That life-car, sir, was invented by Captain Douglass Ottinger, and this is the first one ever used. It was sent out to the ship Ayrshire, and more than two hundred souls were saved by it when there was no other way of giving them human help. There she is, sir." He laid his hand with a good deal of feeling on the queer shell that hung from the ceiling.

The Ottinger life-car, the patent for which the generous inventor gave to the; public, is simply an egg-shaped case with bands of cork about it. Along the top are iron rings through which it is slung on the hawser. The car is drawn by another line from the shore to the vessel. It opens by means of a door or lid two feet square on top. Eleven passengers can be crowded inside. The lid is then screwed down and the car drawn ashore.

"Eleven!" cried one of the party. "It would not hold four comfortably."

"Men in that extremity are not apt to stand on the order of their going," said another.

"Nor women, neither," added the captain; "though women always do cry out to go in the open boat rather than the car, though there isn't half the chance for them."

"How is it ventilated?"

"Ventilated? Lord bless you! What would be the good of it if it wasn't air-tight? It's under the water all the time, upside down, over and over a hundred times. There's air in it enough to last 'em for three minutes, and it's calculated that it can be brought ashore in less time. I've seen husbands put their wives into it, and mothers their little babies—them standing on deck, never hoping to live to see them again."

"And when it was opened—"

"Well, sir, there's curious things seen on the beach on nights of shipwreck. I'm no hand at describing. Some men stagger out of the car sick, some crying or praying, some as cool as if they'd just stepped off the train."

The captain locked the rocket-closet, hung the key on the nail and rearranged a coil of rope which had been displaced. "Things have to be shipshape when the lives of a crew may depend on a missing match or wet powder. The houses," he added as we came out of the door and he stopped to close it, "are built every three miles along the beach. From November 15 until April 15 the keeper and six surfmen live in this house, and take watches, patrolling the beach night and day, meeting halfway between the stations. Chief Kimball's plan is that there shall be an unbroken line of sentries along this dangerous coast during the six stormy months."

When the hearty old captain had left us, and we found our way again across the marshes, the solitude of the night and stormy sky and the moaning sea became oppressive again, and took on all their old meaning of death and disaster. But we looked back at the square black shadow of the little house upon the headland with its fluttering flag, and at the red light burning in the window, and felt a sense of protection and trust in the government which we had never known before.