Read CHAPTER IX - DEFYING THE TEMPEST’S VIOLENCE of The Boy With the U. S. Life-Savers , free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on ReadCentral.com.

“I’ve been wondering,” said Eric to Homer, a few days after his rescue trip on the Redondo, “what we’re going to do with all these natives. We can’t take them back to the Katmai country. They just about live on fish and everything that swims was killed during the eruption. How are they going to exist? It’ll be years before the fish come back.”

“I can tell you all about that,” his friend replied. “You know the commanding officer of the Bering Sea fleet came up, while you were away?”

“Yes, you told me.”

“I heard all about the plans which the department had approved, on his suggestion. A new village is going to be built at the place which the Coast Guard picks out along the shore as being the best site for a town. It’s going to be a regularly laid out place, with sanitary arrangements and everything else complete.”

“Give them all a new start, eh?”

“That’s it, exactly. One of the other ships of the fleet is cruising now along the coast to pick out the best spot. We’re to send a carpenter ashore there and leave him for the winter to look after the erection of igloos. He’ll be in charge of enough supplies to last the settlement till spring.”

“Whereabouts is this town going to be?” asked the boy.

“It’s not definitely decided yet,” was the reply, “but probably it’ll be on Stepnovak Bay. It’ll be quite a place, too, because it’ll start out with a population of over 500 natives, maybe a thousand.”

“That’s a metropolis for Alaska,” agreed Eric.

“And, what’s more,” continued the young engineer, “they’re going to give the new town the name of ‘Perry,’ in honor of our skipper, as the department said, for ’recognition of his heroic services at the time of the eruption.’”

As soon as arrangements for the wintering of the homeless natives had been completed, the Bear returned to Unalaska and thence made one more trip to Nome on business connected with the Federal Courts at that place. Then, as winter was closing in, the Coast Guard cutter stood out to sea up toward the Bering Straits, to await the outcoming of the several vessels in the whaling fleet, and make sure of the safety of every American sailor in the Arctic. The last of the whalers cleared the straits on October 29, and on the following day the Bear started on her southerly course, leaving the Arctic to its annual eight months of unvisited silence.

Eric had wondered a good deal what assignment or appointment he would get for the winter. Great was his delight to find that both he and his chum had been assigned to the Miami, and were to report for duty on December tenth. The extra couple of days allowed him on the journey across the continent gave the boy a chance to visit his relatives in San Francisco, and he also managed it so that he took a short run up to Detroit to see his family and to have a chat with his old friend, the puzzle-maker.

He found the Miami to be a beauty. Unlike the Bear, which depended as much on sails as on steam, the Miami was well-engined. Almost the first thing that struck Eric when he came to go over her arrangements was her unusually large coal and water capacity.

“No wonder she can stay out for months at a time on ice patrol, or chasing up a derelict,” said Eric; “she’s got coal enough for a trip around the world!”

“Wouldn’t mind if she was going to,” said Homer, with a grin.

Eric shook his head.

“Not for mine,” he answered; “I’ve a notion there’s enough going on right around here. Anyhow, the Gulf of Mexico will feel good after a norther like this,” and he shivered in his uniform, for the wind was nipping.

“How would it feel to be somewhere around Point Barrow now?” his friend suggested.

“It might be all right if a fellow were used to it, and dressed for it. At that, I don’t believe I’d want to put in a whole winter up in that country. It isn’t so much the actual cold I’d hate as it would be having to stay indoors half the time because it was too cold to go outside.” He sniffed the salt air. “Guess my folks have been sea-dogs too many hundred years for me to cotton to anything that means indoors.”

“Me, too,” said his chum. “From what I know about the Miami, what’s more, I don’t believe we’re going to spend too much time ashore. When are we sailing, have you heard?”

“Day after to-morrow, I believe,” Eric replied. “We’re going right down to our southern station.”

“The Gulf?”

“Yes, and Florida waters as far north as Fernandina,” was the answer.

“The sooner the quicker, so far as I’m concerned,” said the other, as they strolled below.

Two days later the Miami was steaming down Chesapeake Bay. The weather was ugly and there was a little cross-current that kept the cutter dancing. Eric had his sea legs, after his summer on the Bear, but he was surprised to find how different was the motion of a steamer and a sailing ship. The other junior lieutenant, whom he had already come to like rather well, laughed as Eric stumbled at a particularly vicious roll.

“This isn’t anything,” he said. “Wait until we strike the edge of the Gulf Stream. Then she’s apt to kick up her heels a bit. And you ought to see the Yamacraw! She’s got any of these modern dances pushed off the map!”

“I don’t mind it,” Eric answered, “only it’s a different kind of roll. I’m just off the Bear. She rolls enough, but it’s a longer sort of roll, not short jerks like this.”

“Of course,” said the other, nodding; “bound to be. A ship under sail is more or less heeled over and she’s kept steady by the pressure of the wind on the sail. The long roll you’re talking about isn’t the sea, but the gustiness of the wind. That’s what makes the long roll.”

“At that,” said Eric, “it seems to me that the Miami’s pretty lively now for all the sea there is.”

“There’s more sea than you’d reckon,” was the reply. “Chesapeake Bay can kick up some pretty didoes when in the mood. You’d never believe how suddenly a storm can strike, nor how much trouble it can make. You see that skeleton lighthouse over there?”

“Yes,” said the boy. “Smith’s Point, isn’t it? I remember learning all these lights by heart,” and he rattled off a string of names, being the lights down Chesapeake Bay.

“I see you haven’t forgotten the Academy yet,” said the other. “Yes, that’s Smith’s Point Tower. And while it’s not a particularly imposing looking sort of building, it’s a very important light. It was when they came to build that light, they found out what Chesapeake Bay can be like. Aside from some of the really big lighthouses like Minot’s Ledge, Smith’s Point gave as much trouble to build as any lighthouse on the United States coast.”

“Why?”

“Bad weather and natural difficulties,” said the other. “My father was the designer, and because Mother was dead, Father and I used to be together all the time. I was a small shaver of twelve years of age at the time so I was right in the thick of it.”

“Tell the yarn,” pleaded Eric.

The lieutenant smiled at the boy’s eagerness, but filled his pipe and began.

“Right opposite Smith’s Point,” he said, “on the Virginia shore, the tides and currents at the mouth of the Potomac River and at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay have built out a shoal which, if you remember your chart, you will recall juts out in the bay over nine miles from the land. The same tides had scoured Smith’s Island on the other hand port side going out of the bay, but there are some nasty rocks in the channel. It’s a tricky spot, that Smith’s Point Shoal, and many a good vessel has gone to pieces on it.

“It was the wreck of the barque Mary Louise that drew public attention to Smith’s Point. She struck the shoal and went down with all hands. Less than two hours after she sank, a steamer came along and hit the wreckage. The steamer was so badly injured that it was only by a good deal of luck and clever handling that her captain succeeded in beaching her and saving all the passengers. The Lighthouse Board had made several recommendations for the erection of a lighthouse at that point, and when public attention had been focussed to this danger by the disaster, it was easy enough to get the appropriation through Congress. So the money was set aside and Father was given the contract of designing and erecting the lighthouse.

“By the end of the next month a huge unwieldly foundation caisson was on the ways at a shipyard in Baltimore. I was just a kid at the time, but the queer shape of this interested me right from the start. It was like a bottomless box, thirty-two feet square on the inside and twelve feet high. It was so thick that a tall man could lie down crosswise on one of the walls and stretch out his arms to the full, and then there would be several inches beyond the tips of his fingers and the ends of his feet.”

“My word,” said Eric, “it must have had some timber in it!”

“It had a lot of weight to support,” said the other. “After a while, it was launched I was there and dropped into the bay near Sparrow’s Point. On it were built the first two courses of the iron cylinder which was to be the lower part of the lighthouse. Although that wooden caisson weighed over a hundred tons, so heavy and solid was the cylinder that it sank the wooden structure out of sight.”

“How big was the cylinder?” queried the boy.

“It was thirty feet in diameter and each of the courses was six feet high. That’s twelve feet for the two courses. Inside the big cylinder was a second smaller one, like an air-shaft, five feet in diameter. A pump was rigged on the edge of the cylinder for the journey down the bay, in case any water should splash over the sides from the wake of the tug.

“When the springtime came and there was a reasonable prospect of fair weather, quite a fleet set out for Baltimore with Father and me in the leading tug. I felt as proud of myself as if I’d been an admiral! I wasn’t quite sure,” he added, laughing, “whether Father was the boss of the job or whether I was, myself.

“We had a large ocean-going tug towing the caisson, but we went ahead at very slow speed. Besides the big tug there were two tugs towing seven barges with the iron work, with building materials, stone, cement, and all that sort of thing. It made quite a gallant show.

“I want to tell you right now, we missed our guess when we supposed that Chesapeake Bay was being coddled by any of the softening influences of the gentle springtime! It was only lying low! It took us three days to get to the site of the lighthouse, which was marked by a buoy. We reached there on a quiet and peaceful evening, the sort that landlubber poets write about. A little after sundown it began to breeze up, and by four bells of the first watch, there was a stiffish wind, which at midnight began to climb into half a gale.

“Then the sea began to rise. It only takes a capful of wind to make things nasty on the bay, and that iron cylinder began to toss like a cork. We’d left four men aboard the cylinder and by half an hour after midnight they were pumping for their lives. There was a big searchlight on the tug and Father came tumbling up from below and ordered the searchlight turned on to the cylinder.

“I tell you, that was a sight. There was nothing to be seen in the smother but the great black iron rim rolling savagely, the white water spouting about it, and, as it heaved above the waves, the searchlight showed its black sides with the water streaming down. There, clustered at the pumps, were the four men, working like a bunch of madmen and shouting for help as the cylinder rose above the water, strangling and clinging to the pump-handles like grim death as she went under. It was for their lives that they were working, for if ever half a dozen tons of water should slop over the side of the black monster, it would sink straight to the bottom, and so great would be the suction that there was not the slightest chance that any of them would ever come up alive.

“That was one time I saw Father in action. He yelled for the lifeboat and got volunteers. Out of the blank confusion he brought order, and in less than two minutes the lifeboat was over the side with twelve men aboard, Father one of them. The little boat rose on the waves like a feather and the third wave dashed it against the rim of the cylinder. As the frail craft crushed like an eggshell, every man leaped for the edge, hanging on to the sharp iron edge like grim death.

“Down came the cylinder again and as she careened, every man clambered on. The added weight made her top-heavy and she began to ship water badly. Four of the fresh men were put at the pumps to relieve the others who were exhausted by their efforts.

“Father had climbed on the cylinder, with a rope slung over his shoulders. He called to the men to haul in. At the end of it was a large piece of canvas, an old sail. With nothing to which they could hold on, with the waves dashing high and that great iron drum reeling drunkenly on the sea, those men lay flat on their stomachs and spread that sail over the top of the cylinder. More than once it seemed as though wind and sea would get under that sail and with one vast heave, pitch every man into the sea, but they held on. One of the men, an old time shellback, bent that sail on to the cylinder so snugly and cleverly that almost two-thirds of the surface was protected. With teeth as well as hands the men held on, and lashed the canvas into place.

“Every second they expected to feel the cylinder founder beneath their feet, for though the pumps were going steadily and furiously, more water was being shipped than could be taken out. Once the sail was lashed fast, however, the cylinder shed most of the wash and the pumps, now working at top speed with eight men at the handles, began to gain. Water still scuttled down the iron sides, and as the sea was rising, she put her whole side under for the fraction of a second, twice. I was watching it all from the steamer, our searchlight playing full on the ungainly craft.

“Presently, so perilous did the situation grow and so rough the sea, that the captain of the steamer signaled to one of the smaller tugs to take up her anchor and stand by to pick up survivors should the cylinder founder. He broke away his anchor himself and the big ocean-going tug steamed to windward of the cylinder, letting down a heavy coat of oil on the sea. It worked like a charm. The smoothening effect of the oil was just sufficient to enable the men to work on the cylinder with a slight, a very slight, margin of safety.

“Six men scuttled down the rope ladders on the inside of the cylinder. It chanced that there were four buckets on the iron drum and with this they organized a bucket brigade. The water was still three feet deep and swishing about like a whirlpool. Every man knew that one large wave would send them to Davy Jones’ locker.

“Down in the bowels of that iron cylinder they toiled. Not a gleam of light was anywhere, the white shaft of the searchlight overhead only making the shadows denser. No man could see his fellow; only by feeling were the buckets passed from hand to hand. But, between the bucket brigade and the pumps, little by little the water lessened, the load of the cylinder lightened and she rode higher in the water. Little choice was theirs, either to bail unceasingly or to drown like rats in a hole.

“Daybreak found them still at work, spent with exhaustion, hollow-eyed and suffering from the night of terrible strain. The wind had dropped a little with the dawn, but the sea still ran high. Seeing that the men were too thoroughly wearied out to be of any use, even though the weather should improve rapidly, Father gave the order for the fleet to run to the nearest shelter. We sought the lee of Smith’s Island, off the Maryland Shore, and stayed there for a week.

“At last, with every one rested and eager for another tussle, the fleet crept out again. All the weather indications were favorable, and, so far as the experts could foretell, there wasn’t a storm in sight for a week or more.”

“Weather experts aren’t much on guessing,” commented Eric.

“Not in Chesapeake Bay, anyhow,” the other rejoined.

“Not anywhere!”

“I wouldn’t go so far as that,” the other answered. “There’d be a lot more wrecks than there are if it weren’t for the storm signals of the Weather Bureau. They can always warn ships of the coming of a big storm, one of these West Indian hurricanes, for instance. Squalls, of course, they can’t foresee. Usually, that doesn’t matter, because no seaworthy vessel is going to be worried by a squall. But that iron cylinder wasn’t seaworthy. At least, you should have heard what the men called it who had been on board the night it nearly went down!”

“I can imagine,” said Eric.

“Then you’ve a healthy imagination,” his friend replied grimly. “As I was saying,” he continued, “the fleet started out under sunny skies and a smooth sea. They reached the place where the buoy was moored and Father took very careful observations to make sure that the buoy had not shifted during the storm. Everything was all right, and the instant the cylinder was immediately over the precise spot, the valves were opened and the water began to pour in.

“The tugs at once brought up the two barges containing heavy blocks of stone, and the instant that the cylinder touched the bottom, the gangs of men started to heave the stones overboard.”

“What in the wide world was that for?”

“To prevent the water from scouring away the sand. You see it’s all sand there, that’s why the caisson was made. As soon as the current would strike an obstruction like the cylinder, it would make a gyratory sweep around its base. With the strong tides of Chesapeake Bay, even an hour would be enough to scoop out the sand and plunge the whole structure edgewise into the sea. So overboard the stones went, all round the cylinder, making a rough protecting wall against the undermining force of the water. The swirl, instead of striking the smooth iron side of the cylinder, would be broken against the pile of rocks. Moreover, with the sand thus protected it could not be washed away so easily by the force of the current.

“At the same time, another gang of men was sent aboard the cylinder, and one of the smaller tugs brought up a barge loaded with concrete. The men tumbled into the compartments of the cylinder. From the barge two pipes were thrust. Down one of these poured a steady stream of cement, from the other a torrent of small grit, while an unceasing cataract of salt water rushed down from the pumps of the steamer.

“In this awful mess of cement, water, and small stones the men wallowed and struggled, mixing the concrete and packing it down hard into place. Wet to the skin, covered with cement dust, it was all that they could do to keep from turning into concrete statues, and the foreman was continually advising the men to put hands and faces directly under the stream of water and not to give the cement dust a chance to harden on their faces. For two hours they slaved, working in a frenzy of haste.

“Then, when everything was proceeding so well and so rapidly, a black storm-cloud came up out of the sea to the southeast, and the waves began to roll in. The whistle for recall blew shrilly. Up from the cylinder poured the shovelers, covered with concrete and looking like gray images of men. There was a wild flight for the steamer. One of the barges snapped a hawser and it was only by the herculean efforts of the smaller tug that she was kept from collision with the cylinder. Had that tug, loaded down with building material, ever canted against the cylinder, the whole effort would have been in vain.

“One of the lifeboats, containing sixteen men, was picked up by a wave and thrown against the iron rim as a child throws a ball. The boat went into matchwood and every one of the sixteen men was thrown into the water. But Father had taken the precaution of not engaging any man who was not a good swimmer, and the other tug had received instructions to follow each boatload of workmen every trip they took. Accordingly, when the men were thrown into the sea, the tug was not twenty yards away and every one was picked up without injury.

“The next morning, to the horror of every man in the fleet, the cylinder was seen to be inclining four feet from the perpendicular. Although the waves were running high, a gang was sent on one of the stone barges and another two hundred tons of stone were thrown off on the side to which the cylinder was inclining.”

“Why?” asked Eric. “I should have thought that it ought to be on the other side.”

“Not at all,” his friend rejoined. “The reason that the cylinder had listed was because there had been some scouring away of the sand in spite of the stones. If, therefore, the stones were put on the side from which the sand had already been cut away, the action of the water on the other side would undermine the sand there and gradually straighten up the cylinder. At least, that was the idea.”

“And did it work?”

“Perfectly. Two days passed before the cylinder was absolutely level, and in the meantime the tug had taken one of the barges for more stone. Another hundred tons was dumped down as soon as the cylinder was straight again, and it was thereby kept from further scouring. The weather had become good again, and the concrete work was continued. On April 21st the entire gang began work. Barge hands, cooks, everybody that could handle a shovel at all, was sent aboard the cylinder.”

“Did you go?”

“You bet I did, and I worked as hard as any of the men for a while. Two or three hours of it did me up, though. I was only twelve years old, remember, but most of the men kept on the job for forty-eight hours straight with only fifteen minutes allowed for meals. By that time the foundation was secure with thirty feet of solid concrete twenty-two feet thick.”

“That ought to hold it,” said Eric.

“That was only the beginning,” said his friend. “What would hold it, resting on the top of the sand?”

“I’d thought of that,” admitted the boy, “but I supposed the weight would be enough to drive it in.”

“Never,” the other said. “The next step was to drive it down into the hard sand at the bottom of the bay. Father had made borings and found a true sea-bottom sand fifteen feet and a half below the level of the shoal. It was to that depth that the whole caisson had to be sunk.

“You remember that I told you there was an air-shaft in the middle of the caisson?”

“Yes.”

“Well, on the top of this air-shaft an air-lock was built. The water in the air-shaft was forced out by compressed air and the men entered the caisson.”

“Into the compressed air?”

“Yes. It takes a special kind of worker for the job. In the air-lock, you know, the men have to stay for a while before they enter the chamber, so as to get used to the compressed air gradually. Lots of people can’t stand it.”

“Did you try it?”

“Yes. I asked Father and he wouldn’t let me. But I slipped into the air-lock once and tried it, anyhow.”

“Well?”

“Not for me!” said his friend. “I got out in less than five minutes. My head seemed bursting, and I was bleeding from the ears as well as the nose. But some of them, especially an old chap called Griffin, the foreman, didn’t seem to mind it at all.

“As soon as the caisson was clear of water and the men were ready, they entered the caisson, crawled down the long ladder and began to dig away the sand. A large four-inch pipe led up the air-shaft and over the sea. The sand and small stones were shoveled into a chamber from which a valve opened into the pipe and the compressed air drove up the sand and stones like a volcano into the sea. The work proceeded rapidly and without a hitch until the caisson had been sunk thirteen feet and a half. Then, when only two feet from the total desired depth, an unexpected and terrible thing happened.

“At three o’clock in the afternoon a low hissing was heard in the caisson, and with a quick flicker the candles first burned low, then flamed anew, the color of the flame a lambent green. For a few moments none of the men realized what had happened, and stood there, stupefied and staggering. An acrid burning sensation gripped the men by the throat and they were stricken blind. Suffering terrible agony, every man managed to climb the long ladder, each step of which seemed an eternity, and entered the air-lock. Ten hale and hearty men had entered the caisson, ten wrecks emerged, the flesh of the inside of their throats raw and their eyes swollen and reddened beyond recognition.

“A telegram was sent to the Lighthouse Inspector of the district, and the doctor attached to the building party sent for medical help. Next day the inspector came down, with assistants, and accompanied by another physician and a nurse. They found that the caisson workers had tapped a vein of sulphuretted hydrogen, probably due to the decay of some deep beds of vegetable matter, such as sea-weed. One of the assistants to the inspector, who was a clever young scientist, suggested that after a day or two it might be possible to enter the caisson again, but that it would be necessary to proceed with extreme care, as another pocket might be tapped, with a recurrence of the danger.

“Although before them, in their bunks, lay their ten comrades, when Father called for volunteers, fourteen men came forward. They knew, they could not help knowing, that they were not only going into possible danger, but into absolutely certain torture. Their comrades lay there it was not certain that some of them would ever see again, it was not certain that some of them would recover. Absolute agony of the most horrible kind awaited them. But the lighthouse had to be built. It is easy to make a problematic sacrifice of life, it is hard to walk without shrinking into a chamber of awful pain. From this ordeal these fourteen men did not shrink.

“They were headed by Griffin, the old caisson foreman, who had a record of having withstood the greatest pressure possible, a pressure of eight and a half atmospheres. They went down at nine o’clock in the morning. The pain must have been fearful, but they stuck to it to the end. One man went through the air-lock and got food, returning to his comrades. He had been down four hours, and his condition was so terrible that the doctor ordered him to stay out of the lock.

“‘I’m not that breed,’ he said in a horrid whisper over his raw and swollen throat, ‘I’m goin’ to see it through.’

“‘Better keep away, my man,’ the doctor said; ’I won’t answer for what will happen to you if you go back.’

“‘I ain’t no quitter,’ was the answer. ’I’m a Boston wharf-rat, I am, an’ I stays wid de gang!’

“That doesn’t sound like a heroic speech, Eric,” said the first lieutenant, “but it looks to me like it’s the real stuff.”

“It surely is,” agreed the boy.

“He went back with a bite of food for all the men below and they worked on steadily. By the way the stuff came up the pipe they must have worked like demons. Every ear was keen for sign or sound of trouble, but the afternoon wore on, the sand came hurtling from the pipe and the caisson sank lower and lower.

“‘How much further?’ I asked Father, just as the evening was beginning to draw in.

“‘Not more than an inch or two,’ he said triumphantly. ’I tell you what, I envy those fellows down there. They’re real men. I doubt if I’d have the nerve to do it myself.’

“Suddenly there came a muffled roar below.

“‘There it is!’ cried the young scientist, and he made a bolt for the air-lock.

“Father was not more than a second behind him, waiting only to make sure of the point to which the structure had been sunk. The caisson was within three quarters of an inch of the required depth!

“Meantime, down in the caisson, the feared disaster had occurred. The gas had come up with a rush, almost like an explosion. In the green glare of the candles, burning sulphur and hydrogen flames instead of oxygen, the men were staggering, here and there, unable to find the way out.

“Griffin took charge. It was his hand that led every man to the ladder. Nine men crawled up.

“As the minutes passed, the anxiety at the head of the shaft grew intense. No more workers came. Fourteen men had gone down; only nine had returned. There were then five men still unaccounted for. First one rope was dropped without result, then another. This time some groping hand it proved to be Griffin’s encountered the rope, and found a sufferer. He tied the rope around his comrade and the man was hoisted up. Four times this was done, but the fourth was a huge, powerful Irishman, called Howard. When he was pulled up, entirely unconscious, he stuck fast in the hole and could not be pulled out.

“By an exertion of self-control and endurance, that no one ever has been able to understand, Griffin climbed that ladder into the top where the gases were at their foulest. Though all his comrades had been too far gone for several minutes to move, even to help themselves, he succeeded in pushing and pulling Howard’s unconscious body until it passed through the hole.

“A hand was stretched down to reach Griffin and bring him to life and safety, when the overwrought system gave way. He loosed his handhold on the ladder and fell.

“A groan went up from those above. It was a thirty-foot fall. Had the rescuer, the hero, been killed? Scarcely could a man fall in such a way in an air shaft and live.

“There was no need to ask for volunteers. Two men, one of those who had been in the caisson all day and was one of the first rescued, and another, who had not gone down at all, leaped for the ladder. The doctor caught the first by the shoulder and thrust him aside. The other descended a few feet and then came up again, to fall unconscious at the edge of the shaft. Another sprang forward, and yet another, clamoring for leave to go down.

“Just at that moment there was a faint tug at the rope, the first rope, which had been left hanging down in the pit. Hardly expecting anything, one of the men started to haul it in.

“‘Come here, boys,’ he cried; ‘Griffin’s on!’

“With their hearts in their mouths, the men hauled in, and the limp and apparently lifeless body of the foreman came to the surface. How he had ever managed to fasten the rope around him was a mystery. His hands, with the flesh rubbed from them to the bone, showed that when he had lost hold on the ladder he had still retained presence of mind enough to grasp the sides and had slid to the foot. There he had found the end of the rope hanging and in a last flicker of understanding had tied it around himself.”

“Did he get all right again?” asked Eric eagerly.

“He was blind for six weeks, but finally recovered. Two of the men were seven months in hospital, and one became permanently insane. Four got ‘bends,’ that fearful disease that strikes caisson-workers, but happily, none died from the terrible experience.”

“And the three quarters of an inch still lacking?”

“The cylinder settled just that much and no one ever had to go down the shaft again. The caisson was filled with concrete and the air-shaft sealed.”

“And that was the final effort of the sea?”

“Not quite. A month later a storm came up and drove the steamer against the cylinder with such force that eight of the plates though an inch thick and braced with rigid solidity were crushed in. Father had taken precautions against such an accident by having had a number of extra plates made, and the lighthouse was finished and turned over to the government three days before the expiration of the time required by the contract. It was a case of man’s struggle with the elements, and man won.”

“But the honors are with the caisson-men,” suggested Eric.

“Yes,” agreed the other, “the hero of Smith’s Point lighthouse is Griffin, the caisson-man.”