The Open Boat

By Stephen Crane

A Tale Intended to be after the Fact: Being the Experience of Four Men from the Sunk Steamer Commodore.


NONE OF THEM knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea. The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, and at all times its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust up in points like rocks.

Many a man ought to have a bath-tub larger than the boat which here rode upon the sea. These waves were most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall, and each froth-top was a problem in small boat navigation.

The cook squatted in the bottom and looked with both eyes at the six inches of gunwale which separated him from the ocean. His sleeves were rolled over his fat forearms, and the two flaps of his unbuttoned vest dangled as he bent to bail out the boat. Often he said: “Gawd! That was a narrow clip.” As he remarked it, he invariably gazed eastward over the broken sea.

The oiler, steering with one of the two oars in the boat, sometimes raised himself suddenly to keep clear of water that swirled in over the stern. It was a thin little oar and it seemed often ready to snap.

The correspondent, pulling at the other oar, watched the waves and wondered why he was there.

The injured captain, lying in the bow, was at this time buried in that profound dejection and indifference which comes, temporarily at least, to even the bravest and most enduring when, willy nilly, the firm fails, the army loses, the ship goes down. The mind of the master of a vessel is rooted deep in the timbers of her, though he command for a day or a decade, and this captain had on him the stern impression of a scene in the grays of dawn of seven turned faces, and later a stump of a top-mast with a white ball on it that slashed to and fro at the waves, went low and lower, and down. Thereafter there was something strange in his voice. Although steady, it was deep with mourning, and of a quality beyond oration or tears.

“Keep 'er a little more south, Billie,” said he. “ ‘A little more south,’ sir,” said the oiler in the stern.

A seat in this boat was not unlike a seat upon a bucking bronco, and, by the same token, a bronco is not much smaller. The craft pranced and reared, and plunged like an animal. As each wave came, and she rose for it, she seemed like a horse making at a fence outrageously high. The manner of her scramble over these walls of water is a mystic thing, and, moreover, at the top of them were ordinarily these problems in white water, the foam racing down from the summit of each wave, requiring a new leap, and a leap from the air. Then, after scornfully bumping a crest, she would slide, and race, and splash down a long incline and arrive bobbing and nodding in front of the next menace.

A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats. In a ten-foot dinghy one can get an idea of the resources of the sea in the line of waves that is not probable to the average experience, which is never at sea in a dinghy. As each salty wall of water approached, it shut all else from the view of the men in the boat, and it was not difficult to imagine that this particular wave was the final outburst of the ocean, the last effort of the grim water. There was a terrible grace in the move of the waves, and they came in silence, save for the snarling of the crests.

In the wan light, the faces of the men must have been gray. Their eyes must have glinted in strange ways as they gazed steadily astern. Viewed from a balcony, the whole thing would doubtlessly have been weirdly picturesque. But the men in the boat had no time to see it, and if they had had leisure there were other things to occupy their minds. The sun swung steadily up the sky, and they knew it was broad day because the color of the sea changed from slate to emerald-green, streaked with amber lights, and the foam was like tumbling snow. The process of the breaking day was unknown to them. They were aware only of this effect upon the color of the waves that rolled toward them.

In disjointed sentences the cook and the correspondent argued as to the difference between a life-saving station and a house of refuge. The cook had said: “There's a house of refuge just north of the Mosquito Inlet Light, and as soon as they see us, they'll come off in their boat and pick us up.”

“As soon as who see us?” said the correspondent.

“The crew,” said the cook.

“Houses of refuge don't have crews,” said the correspondent. “As I understand them, they are only places where clothes and grub are stored for the benefit of shipwrecked people. They don't carry crews.”

“Oh, yes, they do,” said the cook.

“No, they don't,” said the correspondent.

“Well, we're not there yet, anyhow,” said the oiler, in the stern.

“Well,” said the cook, “perhaps it's not a house of refuge that I'm thinking of as being near Mosquito Inlet Light. Perhaps it's a life-saving station.”

“We're not there yet,” said the oiler, in the stern.


AS THE BOAT bounced from the top of each wave, the wind tore through the hair of the hatless men, and as the craft plopped her stern down again the spray slashed past them. The crest of each of these waves was a hill, from the top of which the men surveyed, for a moment, a broad tumultuous expanse; shining and wind-riven. It was probably splendid. It was probably glorious, this play of the free sea, wild with lights of emerald and white and amber.

“Bully good thing it's an on-shore wind,” said the cook. “If not, where would we be? Wouldn't have a show.”

“That's right,” said the correspondent.

The busy oiler nodded his assent.

Then the captain, in the bow, chuckled in a way that expressed humor, contempt, tragedy, all in one. “Do you think we've got much of a show, now, boys?” said he.

Whereupon the three were silent, save for a trifle of hemming and hawing. To express any particular optimism at this time they felt to be childish and stupid, but they all doubtless possessed this sense of the situation in their mind. A young man thinks doggedly at such times. On the other hand, the ethics of their condition was decidedly against any open suggestion of hopelessness. So they were silent.

“Oh, well,” said the captain, soothing his children, “we'll get ashore all right.”

But there was that in his tone which made them think, so the oiler quoth: “Yes! If this wind holds!”

The cook was bailing: “Yes! If we don't catch hell in the surf.”

Canton flannel gulls flew near and far. Sometimes they sat down on the sea, near patches of brown sea-weed that rolled over the waves with a movement like carpets on line in a gale. The birds sat comfortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dinghy, for the wrath of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a thousand miles inland. Often they came very close and stared at the men with black bead-like eyes. At these times they were uncanny and sinister in their unblinking scrutiny, and the men hooted angrily at them, telling them to be gone. One came, and evidently decided to alight on the top of the captain's head. The bird flew parallel to the boat and did not circle, but made short sidelong jumps in the air in chicken-fashion. His black eyes were wistfully fixed upon the captain's head. “Ugly brute,” said the oiler to the bird. “You look as if you were made with a jack-knife.” The cook and the correspondent swore darkly at the creature. The captain naturally wished to knock it away with the end of the heavy painter, but he did not dare do it, because anything resembling an emphatic gesture would have capsized this freighted boat, and so with his open hand, the captain gently and carefully waved the gull away. After it had been discouraged from the pursuit the captain breathed easier on account of his hair, and others breathed easier because the bird struck their minds at this time as being somehow gruesome and ominous.

In the meantime the oiler and the correspondent rowed. And also they rowed.

They sat together in the same seat, and each rowed an oar. Then the oiler took both oars; then the correspondent took both oars; then the oiler; then the correspondent. They rowed and they rowed. The very ticklish part of the business was when the time came for the reclining one in the stern to take his turn at the oars. By the very last star of truth, it is easier to steal eggs from under a hen than it was to change seats in the dinghy. First the man in the stern slid his hand along the thwart and moved with care, as if he were of Sevres. Then the man in the rowing seat slid his hand along the other thwart. It was all done with the most extraordinary care. As the two sidled past each other, the whole party kept watchful eyes on the coming wave, and the captain cried: “Look out now! Steady there!”

The brown mats of sea-weed that appeared from time to time were like islands, bits of earth. They were travelling, apparently, neither one way nor the other. They were, to all intents stationary. They informed the men in the boat that it was making progress slowly toward the land.

The captain, rearing cautiously in the bow, after the dinghy soared on a great swell, said that he had seen the lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet. Presently the cook remarked that he had seen it. The correspondent was at the oars, then, and for some reason he too wished to look at the lighthouse, but his back was toward the far shore and the waves were important, and for some time he could not seize an opportunity to turn his head. But at last there came a wave more gentle than the others, and when at the crest of it he swiftly scoured the western horizon.

“See it?” said the captain.

“No,” said the correspondent, slowly, “I didn't see anything.”

“Look again,” said the captain. He pointed. “It's exactly in that direction.”

At the top of another wave, the correspondent did as he was bid, and this time his eyes chanced on a small still thing on the edge of the swaying horizon. It was precisely like the point of a pin. It took an anxious eye to find a lighthouse so tiny.

“Think we'll make it, captain?”

“If this wind holds and the boat don't swamp, we can't do much else,” said the captain.

The little boat, lifted by each towering sea, and splashed viciously by the crests, made progress that in the absence of sea-weed was not apparent to those in her. She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, miraculously, top-up, at the mercy of five oceans. Occasionally, a great spread of water, like white flames, swarmed into her.

“Bail her, cook,” said the captain, serenely.

“All right, captain,” said the cheerful cook.


IT WOULD BE difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas. No one said that it was so. No one mentioned it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him. They were a captain, an oiler, a cook, and a correspondent, and they were friends, friends in a more curiously iron-bound degree than may be common. The hurt captain, lying against the water-jar in the bow, spoke always in a low voice and calmly, but he could never command a more ready and swiftly obedient crew than the motley three of the dinghy. It was more than a mere recognition of what was best for the common safety. There was surely in it a quality that was personal and heartfelt. And after this devotion to the commander of the boat there was this comradeship that the correspondent, for instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew even at the time was the best experience of his life. But no one said that it was so. No one mentioned it.

“I wish we had a sail,” remarked the captain. “We might try my overcoat on the end of an oar and give you two boys a chance to rest.” So the cook and the correspondent held the mast and spread wide the overcoat. The oiler steered, and the little boat made good way with her new rig. Sometimes the oiler had to scull sharply to keep a sea from breaking into the boat, but otherwise sailing was a success.

Meanwhile the light-house had been growing slowly larger. It had now almost assumed color, and appeared like a little gray shadow on the sky. The man at the oars could not be prevented from turning his head rather often to try for a glimpse of this little gray shadow.

At last, from the top of each wave the men in the tossing boat could see land. Even as the light-house was an upright shadow on the sky, this land seemed but a long black shadow on the sea. It certainly was thinner than paper. “We must be about opposite New Smyrna,” said the cook, who had coasted this shore often in schooners. “Captain, by the way, I believe they abandoned that life-saving station there about a year ago.”

“Did they?” said the captain.

The wind slowly died away. The cook and the correspondent were not now obliged to slave in order to hold high the oar. But the waves continued their old impetuous swooping at the dinghy, and the little craft, no longer under way, struggled woundily over them. The oiler or the correspondent took the oars again.

Shipwrecks are apropos of nothing. If men could only train for them and have them occur when the men had reached pink condition, there would be less drowning at sea. Of the four in the dinghy none had slept any time worth mentioning for two days and two nights previous to embarking in the dinghy, and in the excitement of clambering about the deck of a foundering ship they had also forgotten to eat heartily.

For these reasons, and for others, neither the oiler nor the correspondent was fond of rowing at this time. The correspondent wondered ingenuously how in the name of all that was sane could there be people who thought it amusing to row a boat. It was not an amusement; it was a diabolical punishment, and even a genius of mental aberrations could never conclude that it was anything but a horror to the muscles and a crime against the back. He mentioned to the boat in general how the amusement of rowing struck him, and the weary-faced oiler smiled in full sympathy. Previously to the foundering, by the way, the oiler had worked double-watch in the engine-room of the ship.

“Take her easy, now, boys,” said the captain. “Don't spend yourselves. If we have to run a surf you'll need all your strength, because we'll sure have to swim for it. Take your time.”

Slowly the land arose from the sea. From a black line it became a line of black and a line of white, trees, and sand. Finally, the captain said that he could make out a house on the shore. “That's the house of refuge, sure,” said the cook. “They'll see us before long, and come out after us.”

The distant light-house reared high. “The keeper ought to be able to make us out now, if he's looking through a glass,” said the captain. “He'll notify the life-saving people.”

“None of those other boats could have got ashore to give word of the wreck,” said the oiler, in a low voice. “Else the life-boat would be out hunting us.”

Slowly and beautifully the land loomed out of the sea. The wind came again. It had veered from the northeast to the southeast. Finally, a new sound struck the ears of the men in the boat. It was the low thunder of the surf on the shore. “We'll never be able to make the light-house now,” said the captain. “Swing her head a little more north, Billie,” said the captain.

“ ‘A little more north,’ sir,” said the oiler.

Whereupon the little boat turned her nose once more down the wind, and all but the oarsman watched the shore grow. Under the influence of this expansion doubt and direful apprehension was leaving the minds of the men. The management of the boat was still most absorbing, but it could not prevent a quiet cheerfulness. In an hour, perhaps, they would be ashore.

Their back-bones had become thoroughly used to balancing in the boat and they now rode this wild colt of a dinghy like circus men. The correspondent thought that he had been drenched to the skin, but happening to feel in the top pocket of his coat, he found therein eight cigars. Four of them were soaked with sea-water; four were perfectly scatheless. After a search, somebody produced three dry matches, and thereupon the four waifs rode in their little boat, and with an assurance of an impending rescue shining in their eyes, puffed at the big cigars and judged well and ill of all men. Everybody took a drink of water.


“COOK,” REMARKED THE captain, “there don't seem to be any signs of life about your house of refuge.”

“No,” replied the cook. “Funny they don't see us!”

A broad stretch of lowly coast lay before the eyes of the men. It was of low dunes topped with dark vegetation. The roar of the surf was plain, and sometimes they could see the white lip of a wave as it spun up the beach. A tiny house was blocked out black upon the sky. Southward, the slim lighthouse lifted its little gray length.

Tide, wind, and waves were swinging the dinghy northward. “Funny they don't see us,” said the men.

The surf's roar was here dulled, but its tone was, nevertheless, thunderous and mighty. As the boat swam over the great rollers, the men sat listening to this roar. “We'll swamp sure,” said everybody.

It is fair to say here that there was not a life-saving station within twenty miles in either direction, but the men did not know this fact and in consequence they made dark and opprobrious remarks concerning the eyesight of the nation's life-savers. Four scowling men sat in the dinghy and surpassed records in the invention of epithets.

“Funny they don't see us.”

The light-heartedness of a former time had completely faded. To their sharpened minds it was easy to conjure pictures of all kinds of incompetency and blindness and indeed, cowardice. There was the shore of the populous land, and it was bitter and bitter to them that from it came no sign.

“Well,” said the captain, ultimately, “I suppose we'll have to make a try for ourselves. If we stay out here too long, we'll none of us have strength left to swim after the boat swamps.”

And so the oiler, who was at the oars, turned the boat straight for the shore. There was a sudden tightening of muscles. There was some thinking.

“If we don't all get ashore—” said the captain. “If we don't all get ashore, I suppose you fellows know where to send news of my finish?”

They then briefly exchanged some addresses and admonitions. As for the reflections of the men, there was a great deal of rage in them. Perchance they might be formulated thus: “If I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men's fortunes. She is an old hen who knows not her intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it in the beginning and save me all this trouble. The whole affair is absurd. . .But, no, she cannot mean to drown me. She dare not drown me. She cannot drown me. Not after all this work.” Afterward the man might have had an impulse to shake his fist at the clouds: “Just you drown me, now, and then hear what I call you!”

The billows that came at this time were more formidable. They seemed always just about to break and roll over the little boat in a turmoil of foam. There was a preparatory and long growl in the speech of them. No mind unused to the sea would have concluded that the dinghy could ascend these sheer heights in time. The shore was still afar. The oiler was a wily surfman. “Boys,” he said, swiftly, “she won't live three minutes more and we're too far out to swim. Shall I take her to sea again, captain?”

“Yes! Go ahead!” said the captain.

This oiler, by a series of quick miracles, and fast and steady oarsmanship, turned the boat in the middle of the surf and took her safely to sea again.

There was a considerable silence as the boat bumped over the furrowed sea to deeper water. Then somebody in gloom spoke. “Well, anyhow, they must have seen us from the shore by now.”

The gulls went in slanting flight up the wind toward the gray desolate east. A squall, marked by dinghy clouds, and clouds brick-red, like smoke from a burning building, appeared from the southeast.

“What do you think of those life-saving people? Ain't they peaches?”

“Funny they haven't seen us.” “Maybe they think we're out here for sport! Maybe they think we're fishin'. Maybe they think we're damned fools.”

It was a long afternoon. A changed tide tried to force them southward, but wind and wave said northward. Far ahead, where coast-line, sea, and sky formed their mighty angle, there were little dots which seemed to indicate a city on the shore.

“St. Augustine?”

The captain shook his head. “Too near Mosquito Inlet.”

And the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed. Then the oiler rowed. It was a weary business. The human back can become the seat of more aches and pains than are registered in books for the composite anatomy of a regiment. It is a limited area, but it can become the theatre of innumerable muscular conflicts, tangles, wrenches, knots, and other comforts.

“Did you ever like to row, Billie?” asked the correspondent. “No,” said the oiler. “Hang it.”

When one exchanged the rowing-seat for a place in the bottom of the boat, he suffered a bodily depression that caused him to be careless of everything save an obligation to wiggle one finger. There was cold sea-water swashing to and fro in the boat, and he lay in it. His head, pillowed on a thwart, was within an inch of the swirl of a wave crest, and sometimes a particularly obstreperous sea came in-board and drenched him once more. But these matters did not annoy him. It is almost certain that if the boat had capsized he would have tumbled comfortably out upon the ocean as if he felt sure it was a great soft mattress.

“Look! There's a man on the shore!”

“Where?” “There! See 'im? See 'im?”

“Yes, sure! He's walking along.”

“Now he's stopped. Look! He's facing us!”

“He's waving at us!”

“So he is! By thunder!”

“Ah, now, we're all right! Now we're all right! There'll be a boat out here for us in half an hour.”

“He's going on. He's running. He's going up to that house there.”

The remote beach seemed lower than the sea, and it required a searching glance to discern the little black figure. The captain saw a floating stick and they rowed to it. A bath-towel was by some weird chance in the boat, and, tying this on the stick, the captain waved it. The oarsman did not dare turn his head, so he was obliged to ask questions.

“What's he doing now?”

“He's standing still again. He's looking, I think. . .There he goes again. Toward the house. . .Now he's stopped again.”

“Is he waving at us?”

“No, not now! he was, though.”

“Look! There comes another man!”

“He's running.”

“Look at him go, would you.”

“Why, he's on a bicycle. Now he's met the other man. They're both waving at us. Look!”

“There comes something up the beach.”

“What the devil is that thing?”

“Why, it looks like a boat.”

“Why, certainly it's a boat.”

“No, it's on wheels.”

“Yes, so it is. Well, that must be the life-boat. They drag them along shore on a wagon.”

“That's the life-boat, sure.”

“No, by—, it's—it's an omnibus.”

“I tell you it's a life-boat.”

“It is not! It's an omnibus. I can see it plain. See? One of these big hotel omnibuses.”

“By thunder, you're right. It's an omnibus, sure as fate. What do you suppose they are doing with an omnibus? Maybe they are going around collecting the life-crew, hey?”

“That's it, likely. Look! There's a fellow waving a little black flag. He's standing on the steps of the omnibus.

There come those other two fellows. Now they're all talking together. Look at the fellow with the flag. Maybe he ain't waving it.”

“That ain't a flag, is it? That's his coat. Why, certainly, that's his coat.”

“So it is. It's his coat. He's taken it off and is waving it around his head. But would you look at him swing it.”

“Oh, say, there isn't any life-saving station there. That's just a winter resort hotel omnibus that has brought over some of the boarders to see us drown.”

“What's that idiot with the coat mean? What's he signaling, anyhow?”

“It looks as if he were trying to tell us to go north. There must be a life-saving station up there.”

“No! He thinks we're fishing. Just giving us a merry hand. See? Ah, there, Willie.”

“Well, I wish I could make something out of those signals. What do you suppose he means?”

“He don't mean anything. He's just playing.”

“Well, if he'd just signal us to try the surf again, or to go to sea and wait, or go north, or go south, or go to hell—there would be some reason in it. But look at him. He just stands there and keeps his coat revolving like a wheel. The ass!”

“There come more people.”

“Now there's quite a mob. Look! Isn't that a boat?”

“Where? Oh, I see where you mean. No, that's no boat.”

“That fellow is still waving his coat.”

“He must think we like to see him do that. Why don't he quit it? It don't mean anything.”

“I don't know. I think he is trying to make us go north. It must be that there's a life-saving station there somewhere.”

“Say, he ain't tired yet. Look at 'im wave.”

“Wonder how long he can keep that up. He's been revolving his coat ever since he caught sight of us. He's an idiot. Why aren't they getting men to bring a boat out. A fishing boat—one of those big yawls—could come out here all right. Why don't he do something?”

“Oh, it's all right, now.”

“They'll have a boat out here for us in less than no time, now that they've seen us.”

A faint yellow tone came into the sky over the low land. The shadows on the sea slowly deepened. The wind bore coldness with it, and the men began to shiver.

“Holy smoke!” said one, allowing his voice to express his impious mood, “if we keep on monkeying out here! If we've got to flounder out here all night!”

“Oh, we'll never have to stay here all night! Don't you worry. They've seen us now, and it won't be long before they'll come chasing out after us.”

The shore grew dusky. The man waving a coat blended gradually into this gloom, and it swallowed in the same manner the omnibus and the group of people. The spray, when it dashed uproariously over the side, made the voyagers shrink and swear like men who were being branded.

“I'd like to catch the chump who waved the coat. I feel like soaking him one, just for luck.”

“Why? What did he do?”

“Oh, nothing, but then he seemed so damned cheerful.”

In the meantime the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed, and then the oiler rowed. Gray-faced and bowed forward, they mechanically, turn by turn, plied the leaden oars. The form of the light-house had vanished from the southern horizon, but finally a pale star appeared, just lifting from the sea. The streaked saffron in the west passed before the all-merging darkness, and the sea to the east was black. The land had vanished, and was expressed only by the low and drear thunder of the surf.

“If I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods, who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?”

The patient captain, drooped over the water-jar, was sometimes obliged to speak to the oarsman.

“Keep her head up! Keep her head up!”

“ ‘Keep her head up,' sir.” The voices were weary and low.

This was surely a quiet evening. All save the oarsman lay heavily and listlessly in the boat's bottom. As for him, his eyes were just capable of noting the tall black waves that swept forward in a most sinister silence, save for an occasional subdued growl of a crest.

The cook's head was on a thwart, and he looked without interest at the water under his nose. He was deep in other scenes. Finally he spoke. “Billie,” he murmured, dreamfully, “what kind of pie do you like best?”


“PIE,” SAID THE oiler and the correspondent, agitatedly. “Don't talk about those things, blast you!”

“Well,” said the cook, “I was just thinking about ham sandwiches, and—”

A night on the sea in an open boat is a long night. As darkness settled finally, the shine of the light, lifting from the sea in the south, changed to full gold. On the northern horizon a new light appeared, a small bluish gleam on the edge of the waters. These two lights were the furniture of the world. Otherwise there was nothing but waves.

Two men huddled in the stern, and distances were so magnificent in the dinghy that the rower was enabled to keep his feet partly warmed by thrusting them under his companions. Their legs indeed extended far under the rowing-seat until they touched the feet of the captain forward. Sometimes, despite the efforts of the tired oarsman, a wave came piling into the boat, an icy wave of the night, and the chilling water soaked them anew. They would twist their bodies for a moment and groan, and sleep the dead sleep once more, while the water in the boat gurgled about them as the craft rocked.

The plan of the oiler and the correspondent was for one to row until he lost the ability, and then arouse the other from his sea-water couch in the bottom of the boat.

The oiler plied the oars until his head drooped forward, and the overpowering sleep blinded him. And he rowed yet afterward. Then he touched a man in the bottom of the boat, and called his name. “Will you spell me for a little while?” he said, meekly.

“Sure, Billie,” said the correspondent, awakening and dragging himself to a sitting position. They exchanged places carefully, and the oiler, cuddling down to the sea-water at the cook's side, seemed to go to sleep instantly.

The particular violence of the sea had ceased. The waves came without snarling. The obligation of the man at the oars was to keep the boat headed so that the tilt of the rollers would not capsize her, and to preserve her from filling when the crests rushed past. The black waves were silent and hard to be seen in the darkness. Often one was almost upon the boat before the oarsman was aware.

In a low voice the correspondent addressed the captain. He was not sure that the captain was awake, although this iron man seemed to be always awake. “Captain, shall I keep her making for that light north, sir?”

The same steady voice answered him. “Yes. Keep it about two points off the port bow.”

The cook had tied a life-belt around himself in order to get even the warmth which this clumsy cork contrivance could donate, and he seemed almost stove-like when a rower, whose teeth invariably chattered wildly as soon as he ceased his labor, dropped down to sleep.

The correspondent, as he rowed, looked down at the two men sleeping under foot. The cook's arm was around the oiler's shoulders, and, with their fragmentary clothing and haggard faces, they were the babes of the sea, a grotesque rendering of the old babes in the wood.

Later he must have grown stupid at his work, for suddenly there was a growling of water, and a crest came with a roar and a swash into the boat, and it was a wonder that it did not set the cook afloat in his life-belt. The cook continued to sleep, but the oiler sat up, blinking his eyes and shaking with the new cold.

“Oh, I'm awful sorry, Billie,” said the correspondent, contritely.

“That's all right, old boy,” said the oiler, and lay down again and was asleep.

Presently it seemed that even the captain dozed, and the correspondent thought that he was the one man afloat on all the oceans. The wind had a voice as it came over the waves, and it was sadder than the end.

There was a long, loud swishing astern of the boat, and a gleaming trail of phosphorescence, like blue flame, was furrowed on the black waters. It might have been made by a monstrous knife.

Then there came a stillness, while the correspondent breathed with the open mouth and looked at the sea.

Suddenly there was another swish and another long flash of bluish light, and this time it was alongside the boat, and might almost have been reached with an oar. The correspondent saw an enormous fin speed like a shadow through the water, hurling the crystalline spray and leaving the long glowing trail.

The correspondent looked over his shoulder at the captain. His face was hidden, and he seemed to be asleep. He looked at the babes of the sea. They certainly were asleep. So, being bereft of sympathy, he leaned a little way to one side and swore softly into the sea.

But the thing did not then leave the vicinity of the boat. Ahead or astern, on one side or the other, at intervals long or short, fled the long sparkling streak, and there was to be heard the whiroo of the dark fin. The speed and power of the thing was greatly to be admired. It cut the water like a gigantic and keen projectile.

The presence of this biding thing did not affect the man with the same horror that it would if he had been a picnicker. He simply looked at the sea dully and swore in an undertone.

Nevertheless, it is true that he did not wish to be alone with the thing. He wished one of his companions to awaken by chance and keep him company with it. But the captain hung motionless over the water-jar and the oiler and the cook in the bottom of the boat were plunged in slumber.


“IF I AM going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods, who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?”

During this dismal night, it may be remarked that a man would conclude that it was really the intention of the seven mad gods to drown him, despite the abominable injustice of it. For it was certainly an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard. The man felt it would be a crime most unnatural. Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed with painted sails, but still—

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.

Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: “Yes, but I love myself.”

A high cold star on a winter's night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation.

The men in the dinghy had not discussed these matters, but each had, no doubt, reflected upon them in silence and according to his mind. There was seldom any expression upon their faces save the general one of complete weariness. Speech was devoted to the business of the boat.

To chime the notes of his emotion, a verse mysteriously entered the correspondent's head. He had even forgotten that he had forgotten this verse, but it suddenly was in his mind.

A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,
There was lack of woman's nursing, there was dearth of woman's tears;
But a comrade stood beside him, and he took that comrade's hand
And he said: “I shall never see my own, my native land.”

In his childhood, the correspondent had been made acquainted with the fact that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, but he had never regarded the fact as important. Myriads of his school-fellows had informed him of the soldier's plight, but the dinning had naturally ended by making him perfectly indifferent. He had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow. It was less to him than breaking of a pencil's point.

Now, however, it quaintly came to him as a human, living thing. It was no longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality—stern, mournful, and fine.

The correspondent plainly saw the soldier. He lay on the sand with his feet out straight and still. While his pale left hand was upon his chest in an attempt to thwart the going of his life, the blood came between his fingers. In the far Algerian distance, a city of low square forms was set against a sky that was faint with the last sunset hues. The correspondent, plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and slower movements of the lips of the soldier, was moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension. He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers.

The thing which had followed the boat and waited had evidently grown bored at the delay. There was no longer to be heard the slash of the cut-water, and there was no longer the flame of the long trail. The light in the north still glimmered, but it was apparently no nearer to the boat. Sometimes the boom of the surf rang in the correspondent's ears, and he turned the craft seaward then and rowed harder. Southward, someone had evidently built a watch-fire on the beach. It was too low and too far to be seen, but it made a shimmering, roseate reflection upon the bluff back of it, and this could be discerned from the boat. The wind came stronger, and sometimes a wave suddenly raged out like a mountain-cat and there was to be seen the sheen and sparkle of a broken crest.

The captain, in the bow, moved on his water-jar and sat erect. “Pretty long night,” he observed to the correspondent. He looked at the shore. “Those life-saving people take their time.”

“Did you see that shark playing around?”

“Yes, I saw him. He was a big fellow, all right.”

“Wish I had known you were awake.”

Later the correspondent spoke into the bottom of the boat.

“Billie!” There was a slow and gradual disentanglement. “Billie, will you spell me?”

“Sure,” said the oiler.

As soon as the correspondent touched the cold comfortable sea-water in the bottom of the boat, and had huddled close to the cook's life-belt he was deep in sleep, despite the fact that his teeth played all the popular airs. This sleep was so good to him that it was but a moment before he heard a voice call his name in a tone that demonstrated the last stages of exhaustion. “Will you spell me?”

“Sure, Billie.”

The light in the north had mysteriously vanished, but the correspondent took his course from the wide-awake captain.

Later in the night they took the boat farther out to sea, and the captain directed the cook to take one oar at the stern and keep the boat facing the seas. He was to call out if he should hear the thunder of the surf. This plan enabled the oiler and the correspondent to get respite together. “We'll give those boys a chance to get into shape again,” said the captain. They curled down and, after a few preliminary chatterings and trembles, slept once more the dead sleep. Neither knew they had bequeathed to the cook the company of another shark, or perhaps the same shark.

As the boat caroused on the waves, spray occasionally bumped over the side and gave them a fresh soaking, but this had no power to break their repose. The ominous slash of the wind and the water affected them as it would have affected mummies.

“Boys,” said the cook, with the notes of every reluctance in his voice, “she's drifted in pretty close. I guess one of you had better take her to sea again.” The correspondent, aroused, heard the crash of the toppled crests.

As he was rowing, the captain gave him some whiskey and water, and this steadied the chills out of him. “If I ever get ashore and anybody shows me even a photograph of an oar—”

At last there was a short conversation.

“Billie. . .Billie, will you spell me?”

“Sure,” said the oiler.


WHEN THE CORRESPONDENT again opened his eyes, the sea and the sky were each of the gray hue of the dawning. Later, carmine and gold was painted upon the waters. The morning appeared finally, in its splendor with a sky of pure blue, and the sunlight flamed on the tips of the waves.

On the distant dunes were set many little black cottages, and a tall white wind-mill reared above them. No man, nor dog, nor bicycle appeared on the beach. The cottages might have formed a deserted village.

The voyagers scanned the shore. A conference was held in the boat. “Well,” said the captain, “if no help is coming, we might better try a run through the surf right away. If we stay out here much longer we will be too weak to do anything for ourselves at all.” The others silently acquiesced in this reasoning. The boat was headed for the beach. The correspondent wondered if none ever ascended the tall wind-tower, and if then they never looked seaward. This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual—nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent. It is, perhaps, plausible that a man in this situation, impressed with the unconcern of the universe, should see the innumerable flaws of his life and have them taste wickedly in his mind and wish for another chance. A distinction between right and wrong seems absurdly clear to him, then, in this new ignorance of the grave-edge, and he understands that if he were given another opportunity he would mend his conduct and his words, and be better and brighter during an introduction, or at a tea.

“Now, boys,” said the captain, “she is going to swamp sure. All we can do is to work her in as far as possible, and then when she swamps, pile out and scramble for the beach. Keep cool now and don't jump until she swamps sure.”

The oiler took the oars. Over his shoulders he scanned the surf. “Captain,” he said, “I think I'd better bring her about, and keep her head-on to the seas and back her in.”

“All right, Billie,” said the captain. “Back her in.” The oiler swung the boat then and, seated in the stern, the cook and the correspondent were obliged to look over their shoulders to contemplate the lonely and indifferent shore.

The monstrous inshore rollers heaved the boat high until the men were again enabled to see the white sheets of water scudding up the slanted beach. “We won't get in very close,” said the captain. Each time a man could wrest his attention from the rollers, he turned his glance toward the shore, and in the expression of the eyes during this contemplation there was a singular quality. The correspondent, observing the others, knew that they were not afraid, but the full meaning of their glances was shrouded.

As for himself, he was too tired to grapple fundamentally with the fact. He tried to coerce his mind into thinking of it, but the mind was dominated at this time by the muscles, and the muscles said they did not care. It merely occurred to him that if he should drown it would be a shame.

There were no hurried words, no pallor, no plain agitation. The men simply looked at the shore. “Now, remember to get well clear of the boat when you jump,” said the captain.

Seaward the crest of a roller suddenly fell with a thunderous crash, and the long white comber came roaring down upon the boat.

“Steady now,” said the captain. The men were silent. They turned their eyes from the shore to the comber and waited. The boat slid up the incline, leaped at the furious top, bounced over it, and swung down the long back of the waves. Some water had been shipped and the cook bailed it out.

But the next crest crashed also. The tumbling boiling flood of white water caught the boat and whirled it almost perpendicular. Water swarmed in from all sides. The correspondent had his hands on the gunwale at this time, and when the water entered at that place he swiftly withdrew his fingers, as if he objected to wetting them.

The little boat, drunken with this weight of water, reeled and snuggled deeper into the sea.

“Bail her out, cook! Bail her out,” said the captain.

“All right, captain,” said the cook.

“Now, boys, the next one will do for us, sure,” said the oiler. “Mind to jump clear of the boat.”

The third wave moved forward, huge, furious, implacable. It fairly swallowed the dinghy, and almost simultaneously the men tumbled into the sea. A piece of life-belt had lain in the bottom of the boat, and as the correspondent went overboard he held this to his chest with his left hand.

The January water was icy, and he reflected immediately that it was colder than he had expected to find it off the coast of Florida. This appeared to his dazed mind as a fact important enough to be noted at the time. The coldness of the water was sad; it was tragic. This fact was somehow mixed and confused with his opinion of his own situation that it seemed almost a proper reason for tears. The water was cold.

When he came to the surface he was conscious of little but the noisy water. Afterward he saw his companions in the sea. The oiler was ahead in the race. He was swimming strongly and rapidly. Off to the correspondent's left, the cook's great white and corked back bulged out of the water, and in the rear the captain was hanging with his one good hand to the keel of the overturned dinghy.

There is a certain immovable quality to a shore, and the correspondent wondered at it amid the confusion of the sea.

It seemed also very attractive, but the correspondent knew that it was a long journey, and he paddled leisurely. The piece of life-preserver lay under him, and sometimes he whirled down the incline of a wave as if he were on a hand-sled.

But finally he arrived at a place in the sea where travel was beset with difficulty. He did not pause swimming to inquire what manner of current had caught him, but there his progress ceased. The shore was set before him like a bit of scenery on a stage, and he looked at it and understood with his eyes each detail of it.

As the cook passed, much farther to the left, the captain was calling to him, “Turn over on your back, cook! Turn over on your back and use the oar.”

“All right, sir!” The cook turned on his back, and, paddling with an oar, went ahead as if he were a canoe.

Presently the boat also passed to the left of the correspondent with the captain clinging with one hand to the keel. He would have appeared like a man raising himself to look over a board fence, if it were not for the extraordinary gymnastics of the boat. The correspondent marveled that the captain could still hold to it.

They passed on, nearer to shore—the oiler, the cook, the captain—and following them went the water-jar, bouncing gayly over the seas.

The correspondent remained in the grip of this strange new enemy—a current. The shore, with its white slope of sand and its green bluff, topped with little silent cottages, was spread like a picture before him. It was very near to him then, but he was impressed as one who in a gallery looks at a scene from Brittany or Algiers.

He thought: “I am going to drown? Can it be possible? Can it be possible? Can it be possible?” Perhaps an individual must consider his own death to be the final phenomenon of nature.

But later a wave perhaps whirled him out of this small deadly current, for he found suddenly that he could again make progress toward the shore. Later still, he was aware that the captain, clinging with one hand to the keel of the dinghy, had his face turned away from the shore and toward him, and was calling his name. “Come to the boat! Come to the boat!”

In his struggle to reach the captain and the boat, he reflected that when one gets properly wearied, drowning must really be a comfortable arrangement, a cessation of hostilities accompanied by a large degree of relief, and he was glad of it, for the main thing in his mind for some moments had been horror of the temporary agony. He did not wish to be hurt.

Presently he saw a man running along the shore. He was undressing with most remarkable speed. Coat, trousers, shirt, everything flew magically off him.

“Come to the boat,” called the captain.

“All right, captain.” As the correspondent paddled, he saw the captain let himself down to bottom and leave the boat. Then the correspondent performed his one little marvel of the voyage. A large wave caught him and flung him with ease and supreme speed completely over the boat and far beyond it. It struck him even then as an event in gymnastics, and a true miracle of the sea. An overturned boat in the surf is not a plaything to a swimming man.

The correspondent arrived in water that reached only to his waist, but his condition did not enable him to stand for more than a moment. Each wave knocked him into a heap, and the under-tow pulled at him.

Then he saw the man who had been running and undressing, and undressing and running, come bounding into the water. He dragged ashore the cook, and then waded toward the captain, but the captain waved him away, and sent him to the correspondent. He was naked, naked as a tree in winter, but a halo was about his head, and he shone like a saint. He gave a strong pull, and a long drag, and a bully heave at the correspondent's hand. The correspondent, schooled in the minor formulae, said: “Thanks, old man.” But suddenly the man cried: “What's that?” He pointed a swift finger. The correspondent said: “Go.”

In the shallows, face downward, lay the oiler. His forehead touched sand that was periodically, between each wave, clear of the sea.

The correspondent did not know all that transpired afterward. When he achieved safe ground he fell, striking the sand with each particular part of his body. It was as if he had dropped from a roof, but the thud was grateful to him.

It seems that instantly the beach was populated with men with blankets, clothes, and flasks, and women with coffee-pots and all the remedies sacred to their minds. The welcome of the land to the men from the sea was warm and generous, but a still and dripping shape was carried slowly up the beach, and the land's welcome for it could only be the different and sinister hospitality of the grave.

When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea's voice to the men on shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters.


  1. The sea is personified as having a voice, one the men from the open boat could “interpret” or understand. Their understanding of the sea is more profound, having survived its implacable power for several days and nights in a small dinghy. The sea is also a symbol of nature. Nature’s indifference to humankind is a universal truth they now understand from their struggles to survive.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The oiler’s having drowned is an example of situational irony. He has been consistently described as the strongest of the men in the boat, and after the boat was swamped, the oiler was swimming “strongly and rapidly” ahead of the others. The oiler’s drowning is the opposite of what readers would expect to happen to him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The “halo” that appears “about his head” may be interpreted literally as an illusion created by the spray as he bounds through the water; it could also be interpreted as the correspondent’s vision of him as he comes to the correspondent’s rescue. Describing the rescuer with a fitting simile as having “shone like a saint” also suggests how he appeared to the correspondent.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The man on shore, who has shed his clothing before plunging into the water to save the men thrown from the boat, is described with a simile comparing him to a “tree in winter,” which would be “naked” from having lost its leaves.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The captain places the welfare of the correspondent over his own safety. His action in waving away help for himself is consistent with his character throughout the story.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  6. In developing themes of naturalism in the story, the correspondent’s “true miracle of the sea” is an example of the random forces in nature that determine one’s fate. Because a wave happens to fling him over and beyond the boat, he lives.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The repetition of the sentence emphasizes the correspondent’s difficulty in imagining or accepting his own death. In the context of the story and its themes of naturalism, his response to the possibility of his own death has universal meaning.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  8. “Brittany” and “Algiers” refer respectively to a region in France and a city in Algeria. The correspondent’s impression of the shore is described with a simile; he views the “picture” before him like someone looking at a painting in an art gallery. The simile suggests a certain emotional detachment while being caught in a current prevents him from reaching the shore.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The shore, as seen from the correspondent’s physical point of view, is described with a simile as being “spread like a picture before him.” Through the simile, readers can see the picture he sees.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The water-jar’s “bouncing gayly over the seas” is a discordant element in the life-or-death scene playing out as the men struggle to reach the shore, another indication that nature is indifferent to their living or dying.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Thrown into the sea himself, the captain still takes responsibility for his men and attempts to save them.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  12. Situational irony is created when the outcome of a situation or event is the opposite of what one would reasonably expect to happen. The correspondent’s response when flung into the sea is an example of situational irony. His first thought concerns the temperature of the water off the Florida coast, not an immediate response one would reasonably expect him to have in his situation.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  13. “Implacable” means relentless and unstoppable.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  14. A “comber” is a long, curling sea wave.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  15. The waves or “rollers” closer to the beach are “monstrous,” indicating that they are huge and powerful.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  16. The passage reflects themes of naturalism in the story: the idea that there is no relationship between the universe and humankind. Nature is indifferent to human beings; humans struggle alone to survive in the natural world, and their fate is only a matter of chance and circumstance.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. The “tower” refers to the “tall white windmill” rising above the cottages; it is described with a direct metaphor as a “giant.” It is also personified as “standing with its back to the plight of the ants.” The word “plight” means a dangerous or difficult situation, suggesting that “ants” is a metaphorical description of the men struggling in the boat, who appear to be quite small in the distance.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. To “acquiesce” means to accept something reluctantly but without protest.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  19. “Carmine” is a dark red color with a purple undertone. The passage employs visual imagery in describing the sunrise and then the morning that follows. The number of days and nights the men spend on the sea is catalogued through sunsets and sunrises.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  20. The men’s boat being in shark-infested waters is brought into the story again, underscoring the dangers they face at sea. The possibility of the shark’s being the same shark seen by the correspondent is disturbing, as it would suggest that the shark is actually following the boat.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. His teeth are personified as playing popular “airs” or songs, meaning that his teeth are chattering because he is so cold.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  22. Animal imagery is employed again in describing the violence of the sea with a simile. A sudden wave driven by strong wind “raged out like a mountain-cat.” The simile suggests the continuous dynamic nature of the sea and its unexpected, dangerous power.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  23. “Roseate” means rose-colored in shades of red or pink.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  24. A thematic parallel is drawn between the correspondent and the dying soldier in the poem. Realizing that his own death is of no consequence in the universe, the correspondent now pities the dying soldier. When he first heard the poem, the correspondent had been unaffected by the soldier’s suffering; now he identifies with the soldier.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. “Throes” is defined as an intense or violent pain or struggle.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  26. These are the opening lines from "Bingen on the Rhine," a poem by Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton (1808-1877) that was first published in 1867. The title refers to the town of Bingen, Germany, the birthplace of the dying soldier, which is located on the Rhine River.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. The “pathos” or pitiful sadness of his situation results from knowing that nature and the universe itself are indifferent to him; his prayers will not be answered, and only he loves himself and values his own life. This recognition, the major theme in the story, is an expression of naturalism in fiction.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. The passage is repeated for a final time in the story, leading to a negation of the belief it expresses: that a human’s fate is determined by some force in the universe that recognizes the existence of humankind.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  29. The shark, like the menacing seagulls and the crashing waves, symbolizes the danger inherent in confronting the forces of nature. The symbolism develops the primary conflict in the story, person vs. nature. With the others asleep in the boat, the correspondent is essentially alone in confronting the danger of the shark; human companionship would make him feel less alone in the natural world that threatens him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. “Whiroo” is auditory imagery that refers to the sound of the shark’s fin moving through the ocean. The shark’s fin, and therefore the shark, is described with a simile as cutting through the water “like a gigantic and keen projectile.” The simile suggests the great size and speed of the shark.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  31. The correspondent’s seeing “an enormous fin” indicates that a shark is next to the boat. The shark’s fin is described with a simile as speeding “like a shadow through the water.”

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  32. In context, “phosphorescence” refers to a glow or soft light emitted in the dark. The “gleaming trail” of light is described with a simile comparing it to a “blue flame.”

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  33. The phrase is an allusion to “The Children in the Wood,” a popular ballad of 1595 about two young orphans who are abandoned in a forest and die.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  34. The captain instructs the correspondent to continue toward the light in the north, keeping it about two degrees to the port or left side of the bow, the front of the boat.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  35. The passage is an example of characterization; the characters of the oiler and the correspondent are developed through what they say and do. The oiler continues to row, despite being overwhelmed by the need to sleep, and when he asks the correspondent to relieve him, he asks “meekly,” in a quiet and gentle manner. The correspondent , despite his own exhaustion, responds at once, “Sure, Billie,” and takes his place at the oars without hesitation. Billie and the correspondent are thus characterized as being responsible and unselfish in their concern for each other.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  36. “Sea-water couch” is an implied metaphor for the floor of the boat, covered in ocean water, where the men sleep.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  37. The gold light in the south and the “bluish gleam” on the northern horizon are described with a direct metaphor as “the furniture of the world.” The metaphor emphasizes the vast emptiness of the ocean where the men in their small boat struggle alone to survive.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  38. The words in the passage are unified and underscored through the alliteration of the “S” sound in “swept,” “sinister,” “silence,” “save,” and “subdued.” The sibilance is soft, in keeping with the sound of the waves marked by “silence” and the “subdued” sound of a cresting wave. The immediate alliteration in “sinister silence” emphasizes that the waves are deadly even when they sweep silently toward the boat.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  39. The repetition of the previous passage underscores its significance in expressing the men’s thinking about their relationship to an all-powerful force in the universe that they believe controls their fate.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  40. “Saffron” is a color made up of orange and yellow. The “streaked saffron in the west” refers to the sun’s setting as darkness moves over the face of the ocean from east to west.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  41. “Omnibus” is a dated term for a bus designed to carry a large number of passengers.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  42. Seeing someone on the shore, the men believe once again that rescue is imminent. Throughout the story, they experience a range of conflicting emotions—hope and the certainty that they will be rescued, followed by anger and despair when they are not saved.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  43. “Obstreperous” means unmanageable or difficult to control. The unruly nature of the sea makes it impossible to stay dry in the bottom of the boat.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  44. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is a city on the east coast of Florida located 78 miles north of Mosquito Inlet.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  45. Appearing in the middle of this long paragraph, the passage expresses the view that some force in the universe actively decides a human’s fate, whether the person lives or dies; to take the men’s lives now, after they have come so close to land, would be “absurd.” The passage and the paragraph represent a logical argument, laced with anger and frustration, for sparing the men’s lives.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  46. Repeated for the third time in this section of the text, the line serves as a type of refrain that expresses the men’s dwindling hopes of rescue.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  47. An “epithet” is a name or phrase that characterizes someone, often in a derogatory way. Expecting to be rescued soon, the men give way to anger and name calling directed at those whom they believe are on shore but not mindful of them.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  48. The phrase refers to the employees who are paid to man life-saving stations in the United States.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  49. “Opprobrious” means harshly critical and scornful. Believing they are within sight of a life-saving station, the men are upset that no one on shore sees them.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  50. The boat is described with an indirect metaphor comparing it to a “wild colt,” meaning a young horse that has not been broken to ride. The metaphor suggests the extreme, violent rising and falling of the boat maneuvering over the waves. The men, who have become more adept at balancing the boat, are described with a simile that complements the metaphor. They “rode” the “wild colt”—the boat—“like circus men,” a reference to rodeo performers.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  51. The sound of the surf breaking on the shore is described with an indirect metaphor comparing it to “low thunder.” The sound is “low” rather than loud because they are still some distance from land.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  52. The oiler’s comment reminds readers that other members of the captain’s crew had been cast into the sea, as well.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  53. The passage describes how the land looks to the men, as if it were rising from the sea, as the boat moves closer to the shore. As they get closer to the shore, trees and a sandy beach become visible.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  54. The phrase means arbitrary or at random. Shipwrecks are “apropos of nothing” because they can happen unexpectedly at any time.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  55. “Woundily” is an archaic word that means excessively or extremely.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  56. A schooner is a sailing ship with two or more masts.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  57. New Smyrna refers to a town on the east coast of Florida approximately four miles south of the Mosquito Inlet lighthouse.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  58. The lighthouse is again described with a simile, this time looking like “a little gray shadow on the sky,” instead of “the point of a pin,” indicating that the men are now closer to the lighthouse.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  59. To “scull” means to row with a pair of oars.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  60. “Motley” is an adjective that describes a group of people or a collection of things that don’t seem to belong together because each one is so different from the others.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  61. Despite their different stations in life, the men recognize the humanity in one another; they are united in personal friendship, an “iron-bound” friendship uncommonly strong.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  62. The lighthouse on the horizon is described with a simile comparing it to “the point of a pin.” In suggesting how small the lighthouse appears to the correspondent, the simile also suggests that it is very far away from the men in the boat.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  63. Clumps of sea weed floating on the surface of the ocean are described with an indirect metaphor as “brown mats” and with a simile as being “like islands.” Descriptive details throughout the story are framed from the men’s point of view, establishing how their surroundings appeared to them.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  64. “Sevres” is an allusion or reference to a kind of fine porcelain made in Sevres, France. The allusion suggests how carefully the oiler and the correspondent change places in the boat, as if they were made of porcelain and could easily shatter.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  65. A thwart is a strut or brace placed crosswise across the width of a boat to give it more stability. In a rowboat, a thwart can serve as a seat for a rower.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  66. The verb “to row” (that rhymes with “to stow”) means to propel a boat forward with an object, such as an oar. The verb “to row” (that rhymes with “to bow”) means to have a quarrel or disagreement.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  67. “Gruesome” means so ghastly as to be shocking, and the word is generally associated with death or injury. “Ominous” is defined as threatening or indicating that something bad is about to happen. The men’s perception of the gulls suggests the crew’s feelings of fear and vulnerability.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  68. As the gulls come close to the men in the boat, they are no longer appealing. Their eyes are described with a simile as looking like black beads; the term “beady eyes” refers to eyes that gleam with malice or evil intent. “Scrutiny” means a searching examination or close watch. In coming close to study the men, the gulls are “uncanny” and “sinister.” They are “uncanny,” meaning that they seem eerie and mysterious; they are “sinister” in that they seem hostile and menacing. The disturbing description of the gulls contributes to the story’s mood of danger and suspense.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  69. Canton flannel, first made in Canton, China, in the 1880s, is a type of cotton fabric with soft fleece on one side of the material. Describing the gulls by associating them with Canton flannel suggests that at a distance, they appear to be soft and beautiful.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  70. “Quoth” is an archaic word that means “quoted” or “said.”

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  71. The men in the boat are described with an indirect metaphor as the captain’s “children.” The metaphor suggests the captain’s responsibility and concern for his crew and their dependence on him in their dangerous situation.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  72. The crest of each wave is described with a direct metaphor comparing it to a hill. Each wave carries the boat to the crest or top of the wave before it plunges down the other side. The metaphor emphasizes the great height of each wave.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  73. The alliteration of the “S” sound in “stern,” “spray,” and “slashed” creates sibilance, or a hissing sound, that suggests the sound of the spray moving past them. The word “slashed" with its connotations of a violent attack further emphasizes the dangerous nature of the waves breaking over the boat.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  74. “Mosquito Inlet Light” is an allusion to the lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet, now known as Ponce de Leon Inlet. Located on the eastern coast of central Florida, the lighthouse was constructed in 1887.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  75. “Foam,” the water that cascades onto the surface of the sea as a wave breaks, is described with a simile comparing it to “tumbling snow.” The whiteness of the foam contrasts with the other colors of the sea—slate, emerald-green, and amber—creating vivid visual imagery in the passage.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  76. “Amber” is a darker shade of yellow with orange or brown undertones.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  77. The physical point of view shifts momentarily in describing the scene as it would have appeared to someone on a balcony looking down at it. “Picturesque” refers to a type of landscape that is artistically appealing; it is beautiful but also features some elements of wildness. Painting picturesque landscapes was popular in the 1700s.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  78. The alliteration or repetition of the “S” sound at the beginning of “silence,” “save,” and “snarling” emphasizes each of the words in the passage and unites them in describing the waves. An example of auditory imagery, the passage contrasts the “silence” of the waves as they approach the boat with a “snarling” sound as they crest. The word “snarling” is associated with feelings of rage, thus personifying the breaking waves as being intentionally violent.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  79. A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes one thing by directly stating or by indirectly implying that it is something else. Each ocean wave that came at the dinghy is described with an indirect metaphor comparing it to a “wall of water.” The metaphor emphasizes the great height and strength of each wave.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  80. A “dinghy” is small rowboat; when carried on a ship, it serves as a lifeboat in case of an emergency at sea. The dinghy holding the captain and three of his crew is only ten feet long.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  81. A “menace” is a threat or a danger. The “next menace” refers to the next wave that the boat will have to contend with to avoid being swamped.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  82. A simile is a figure of speech that describes one thing by saying it is “like” or “as” another thing. (“Not unlike” means “like.”) Here, the boat is described with a series of similes comparing it to a “bucking bronco,” an animal that “pranced and reared,” and a horse jumping an “outrageously high” fence. The similes suggest the violent, heaving motion of the boat as it is assaulted by the waves.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  83. The passage describes the sinking of the captain’s ship, providing exposition that clarifies why he and the other three men are now at sea in a small boat: they have survived the ship’s sinking. The reference to “seven turned faces” indicates that four members of the captain’s crew are unaccounted for.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  84. “Willy nilly” is an adverb that means doing something in an unplanned, disorganized, or haphazard way.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  85. The description of the horizon establishes the setting and physical point of view in the story; the horizon is described as it appears to the men as they look at it from their position at sea. The horizon’s appearing to narrow, widen, dip, and rise suggests that the men are being tossed about by the waves.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  86. The adverb "doggedly" means to do something with determination or persistence.

    — Pauline Sheehan
  87. "Hemming and hawing" refers to the idea of being lost for words or possibly speaking hesitantly, even stammering; for example, when a person says "" before getting to the point.

    — Pauline Sheehan
  88. "Gunwale," pronounced "gunnel," refers to the upper edge of the side of a boat—the "wall"—or planking. The gunwale’s being only six inches in height indicates how small the boat is.

    — Pauline Sheehan