Stephen Crane on brotherhood
Stephen Crane is remembered mainly for ''The Red Badge of Courage,''in which he wrote hauntingly of Civil War soldiers without having been there. Here, in lines from a short story, ''The Open Boat'' (1898), he writes of men tested in another way - lost at sea.
''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 seaweed 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 heart-felt. 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 lighthouse had been growing slowly larger. It had now almost assumed colour, and appeared like a little grey 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 grey shadow.