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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



O'DONNELL, SURFMAN NUMBER SIX

BY FREDERICK ARTHUR DOMINY

IT WAS a gloomy group that lounged about in more or less comfortable attitudes on the boatroom runway and moodily pulled at pipes that hung dejectedly from the corners of their mouths. In the Keeper's office a rumble of voices could be heard and, from the expectant glances the men on the platform occasionally cast at the closed door, it was evident that they were waiting a verdict of some description—and were already convinced that it would be unfavorable—from the occupants of the office.

As the suspense became more and more unbearable, Billy Bennett removed his pipe, expectorated with remarkable accuracy at a fly in front of him, and then, as though displeased with his skill, shook his head dejectedly.

"Ain't no use shakin' your head that-away," growled Saunders, Surfman No. 2. "It's done, an' it can't be undone. I don't mean drowndin' that fly," he continued, although nobody had questioned his meaning. "You all know what I mean. Ed Baker's leg is broke, an' the Sup'enten'ent won't" let us take on the only man we'd have a chance with, as a sub, but sends us that el'g'ble list to pick from, an' we've got 'bout as much chance of winnin' that cup as a snowball has in some places I could mention."

His air was the air of a man eager to provoke a controversy, but affirmative grunts were his only reply, and it was evident that no one had the spirit to argue the question, so he hitched into a more or less comfortable attitude against the door-casing and gazed surlily at the surrounding sand-dunes.

Something had occurred to upset the usual smooth and cheerful tenor of life at Zachs Inlet Life-Saving Station, that was evident, and in consequence, the crew of that station were a most disheartened set of men.

It had happened as they were drilling with the surf-boat. A wave, and just an ordinary sized wave at that, had rolled up on the beach at a most inopportune moment and, like many other waves, had carried before it everything in its path, incidentally throwing the heavy boat on to Edward Baker, Surfman No. 6, and breaking his leg. This leg at that time was doubly precious, for it furnished a good part of the power which enabled Baker to kick his way through the water to many victories in various swimming contests.

Besides his ability as a swimmer, Baker was able to cover a foot or so more at the standing broad jump than the average man, and consequently was a man valuable for other purposes than those for which he was drawing pay from Uncle Sam.

But while it may seem to you a matter of little moment—this accidental breaking of a surfman's leg, which would mend in the course of a month or so at the least—it was a matter of great importance to the members of the Zachs Inlet crew. If they had not already made their boasts regarding the capture of a certain cup, presented by a retired lieutenant of the Revenue Cutter Service who had once been the Assistant Inspector for their district and was still interested in the service, which was to be contested for on the first day of the inactive season by the three crews on Oak Island, they would not have taken it to heart so badly, and now—well, they might finish a poor third. They could do no worse.

At first, when they had hauled Baker ashore and discovered the broken leg, their chance had not seemed so seriously impaired. To be sure, they were sorry that he had been so unfortunate, but broken legs are not dangerous, and they knew of a man who could replace the injured man. That was one of their first thoughts. Get Charley Suydam to substitute, for substitutes were eligible to contest, and there would be no weakness in their team. But then along came the Superintendent's letter, coldly stating that as Baker would be off-for an indefinite period, he was inclosing the list of eligible surfmen for Keeper Rorke to select from, and would thank the Keeper to make his selection immediately.

And that eligible list! Of the five men on...

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