Prince Jan: Chapter 13 — Voices of the Hospice Dogs
By FORRESTINE C. HOOKER
Prince Jan could not tell how many days and nights passed while the boat throbbed on its way. He grew accustomed to the motion and as the captain came often each day to see him and talk to him, and many other people also visited him, Jan found life very pleasant.
Among his visitors was a pretty young woman with big brown eyes and a gentle voice. Nearly always a little child was in her arms, or held by the hand, for it was just beginning to walk. Captain Smith and these two seemed to be great friends. Many times he carried the baby in his arms and it laughed up in his face when he held it down to pat Jan’s head. The dog watched for them every day, and he was never disappointed. Once, the captain brought Hippity-Hop to see Jan, and the kitten purred loudly and rubbed against the dog’s legs, while Jan poked her gently with his nose. The old man chuckled, “You haven’t forgotten each other, have you?” Then he picked up the kitten and carried it away.
That night, without warning, everything seemed to change, somehow. The boat leaped and jumped as though it were frightened at the big waves that washed against and over it. The night was dark, and down in the hold of the vessel it was still darker. Jan listened to men running overhead, voices called loudly and then came a sudden crash. The boat quivered as though it were hurt.
Jan was thrown so heavily against the side of the boat that he lay gasping for breath, then he dragged himself to his feet. Swaying with the jerky motion, but managing to brace himself, he peered through the inky darkness toward the steps leading to the deck. Again he heard the hurried feet, the loud voices of men, and this time there were cries of women and children, too.
He knew something was not right, and as he pulled with all his strength on the rope that held him, and strained his eyes toward the stairway, he heard a sound that made him give a loud bark of joy.
“All right, Jan!” his master was calling through the darkness, “I’m coming!”
The dog whimpered and licked the hands that fumbled at the rope which was tied to the side of the boat. With a leap and yelp of joy, Jan scrambled up the stairs ahead of his master, and both of them reached the deck.
It was very early in the morning and the sky was heavy with dark clouds. The wind screamed and big waves tossed so high that at times the boat appeared to be down in the bottom of a great hole. Although the vessel jerked, groaned, creaked and crunched, it did not move forward. When the water washed back a few minutes, Jan saw jagged rocks poking up and felt the boat pounding on them. He could not understand it at all, and as he looked up with puzzled eyes at his master, he saw the old man was staring straight ahead at a strip of land not very far away, where a lot of people were running about in a great hurry.
One of the boat crew ran past Jan, carrying a rope. Other men were fastening queer looking rings about the bodies of women and children, while still more men were lowering a little boat into the water. But as soon as it touched the waves, it was turned on end and smashed like an egg-shell against the side of the ship. Jan, standing with his legs braced firmly, saw the frightened women and children huddled together. Most of them were very quiet, but some were crying. A few were kneeling on the wet deck, and though their eyes were shut, Jan knew they were not asleep, for their lips were moving as if they were talking to some one whom he could not see.
The shore did not seem very far away, and Jan saw men pushing a little boat into the water. They leaped into it quickly and grabbed up oars.
“Thank God!” said the old poundmaster to a man who stood beside him and Jan. “The Life Guards will save the women and children!”
“There is no Life Saving Station here,” Jan heard a woman’s voice reply. He looked up and saw the pretty lady beside his old master. Her face was very white and she held her baby tightly in her arms, while she stared at the place where the tiny boat was being shoved into the sea by men who stood waist-deep in the rushing water. Then the boat shot high on a wave and started toward the ship. Those on the shore joined in the cheers that sounded on the stranded ship; but even as they cheered, a bigger wave snatched at the boat and overturned it, dumping all the men into the sea. The little boat was dashed on the beach, but those who had been rowing it bobbed about in the water until helped to land.
A group of men, who had been talking with a man wearing a cap trimmed with gold braid, now carried a rope to the side of the ship and tossed it swiftly toward land. Men on the shore were trying to launch another boat, and every one on the ship leaned forward watching them. The waves carried the rope some distance forward, and then tossed it back against the ship’s side as though playing with it, just as a cat plays with a mouse. Tangled and twisted, the rope rose on the crest of a high wave, then dropped from sight, only to bob up once more, and all the time drifting further from land.
“The vessel will be driftwood in half an hour more! She is breaking amidships!” the man beside Jan was speaking again to the poundmaster. “No boat can live in such a sea and no man can swim it.”
Captain Smith looked down at Jan. “It doesn’t count so much with us, Jan,” he said, “but it’s the women and children. Maybe you can help them. Come!”
The dog started at the sound of command and followed his master across the water-washed deck to the group of ship’s officers who were gathered around the captain of the boat. All were talking earnestly when old Captain Smith and Jan pushed between them.
“Maybe Jan can take the rope to shore,” said the poundmaster, while his hand rested on Jan’s wet fur. “He’s a splendid swimmer and isn’t afraid of the water.”
The man with the gold-trimmed cap looked down at the dog whose intelligent eyes turned from face to face as though doing his best to find out why they were all looking at him, and what they wanted.
“It is too much to expect of a dog,” said the man, shaking his head. “Even if he were strong enough, he could not understand.”
“Jan understands everything I tell him,” insisted the old man, “and it wouldn’t be any harm to try him. When he once knows what we want him to do, he will do it or die in trying.”
Just then the boat lurched badly and the people slipped and slid on the slanting, wet deck, but Jan did not move. His firm muscles stiffened, he braced himself steadily and his strong back straightened. The group of officers began talking again and Jan heard them say something about his strength to Captain Smith. A heavier wave lifted the ship from the rocks then dropped her back on the jagged edges that were stabbing her to the heart, while she writhed and groaned like a living thing in agony begging for help.
The ship’s captain turned his eyes on the group of women and children, then to the shore, as though he were measuring the distance across the raging water that boomed between the boat and land. Slowly he turned back to the old man and the dog.
“He may be able to do it, if you can make him understand,” he said at last. Then he added in a low voice, “It is our only hope!”
Jan saw these men all were looking at him and then the ship’s captain spoke.
“If the dog can reach shore with the light rope so we can attach the heavier one, we can rig up a breeches-buoy with the boatswain’s chair, and the women and children could ride safely, for we could lash them to it.”
Captain Smith leaned down and took Jan’s head between trembling hands. The dog and he looked into each other’s eyes, and those who watched the two, felt a little thrill of hope. The animal seemed struggling to grasp the meaning of the old man’s words. A bit of rope was in the captain’s hand, he held it to Jan, who sniffed, then looked back at his master.
Still holding the piece of rope, Captain Smith led the dog to the side of the boat and pointed at the tangled coils that washed on the surface of the waves a short distance away.
“Go get it, Jan!” called the old man sharply.
The people on the deck crowded more closely, and the dog braced himself to spring, but just then a huge wave rose high over the vessel, the white-crested tip hissing like an angry snake, and Jan looked down, down, down into a dark hole and below it gleamed the jagged peaks of the reef, like threatening teeth of a hidden monster. He knew the danger. Drawing back he turned pleading eyes on his master.
“Go, Jan,” said the voice he loved, but this time it did not command, it begged.
The big wave slipped back, others rose behind it, each one tipped with white foam, and between those waves were deep, dark hollows. Jan looked at them, and as he looked, something changed those white-capped things into snowy peaks of the mountains around the Hospice, while the dark places between were changed to chasms and crevasses, where Barry, Pluto, Pallas, Rex and all the dogs of the Hospice had traveled year after year for ten centuries past. He heard their voices calling him. Jan’s ears cocked up, his body quivered, his muscles stiffened, his nose pointed high in the air and the cry he sent back to the calls of his kin was clear and strong like the music of a wonderful, deep-toned bell. Then he braced himself and leaped far out into the water that caught him like many strong arms and dragged him under the waves.
With all his great strength Jan fought his way to the surface and as he rose, something struck against him. He turned quickly to see what new danger threatened, and then he saw the rope and remembered what he had been told.
“Go get it, Jan!” his master had said.
The dog caught the squirming rope between his teeth, and as he did so, he heard distinctly the cheers of those on the stranded ship echoed by those on the shore before he was pulled down beneath the waves again; but he clung to the rope. When he reached the surface, Jan saw his master leaning far over the edge of the deck, pointing toward the land.
Then he understood, and without a moment’s hesitation he flung his body away from the direction of the boat and faced the shore, while the rope trailed behind him, often dragging him back with terrific jerks. The force of the waves tossed him high on dizzy crests, then he was dropped swiftly into depths of seething water. His breath came in painful gasps between his tightly clinched teeth, the water rang in his ears and he was half-blinded by the stinging salt spray that cut like a sharp knife across his eyes.
In spite of his struggles he seemed no nearer the land. Back of him he could see the swaying masts of the boat, and at times the whole length of the deck with people crowded together. Jan, dazed and almost exhausted, turned to swim back to his master and safety. His paws beat the waves more feebly, but his teeth still held the rope. Down, down, down he sank, and over his head rolled the white-crested mountains of water. Then the roaring in his ears turned to the voices of the Hospice dogs. The voices of Barry Bruno, Rex and Jan’s mother sounded clearly. Other dogs joined in the chorus until Jan knew that he heard the voices of all the dogs that had ever lived in the Hospice. Hundreds and hundreds of deep notes, like the bells of the Hospice sending a message to him. “The duty of a St. Bernard is to save lives!”
He fought with new strength, and as his head rose above the waves, the rope still dragging along, he heard cheers that grew nearer and louder, but this time the voices came from the land. A breaker curled high, dashed furiously over him and then it carried him with a rush to the beach and flung him, gasping and exhausted, high on the sand, but the end of the rope was clutched tightly between his teeth. He held it, even when men tried to take it from him, but the hands were kindly and as his jaws relaxed he was lifted gently and carried where the cruel waves could not touch him again.
Jan was too tired to open his eyes when some one knelt beside him and stroked his wet hair, and a man’s voice said huskily, “You wonderful, brave fellow!”
Cheers sounded loud and long, and at last Jan opened his eyes and lifted his head wearily for a second. Before it dropped again to the sand, he saw men on the shore working with another, heavier rope, and some one called out, “Thank God! They got it that time!”
Jan staggered to his feet and with wobbling legs moved a few steps forward. Then he forgot his weariness and aching muscles and stood watching something strange, something that made women near him cry, and the men cheer wildly.
A rope reached from the shore to the stranded ship, and something was moving slowly along that rope toward the land. Jan’s feet were in the surf, but he did not know it as he, too, watched and saw a chair, and in that chair was a woman.
She was seized by eager hands and lifted down among them, laughing and crying and saying, “Oh, quick! Save the others!”
Again and again the chair traveled over the waves that leaped up to clutch it, but the rope was firm. And once when a woman was carried in the chair, a man on the shore gave a big cry of joy as he clasped her in his arms. Jan recognized the pretty lady, but she did not have her baby in her arms this time. Then every one was silent, only a woman’s sob sounded softly, and the pretty lady stood staring across the water, where high above the waves swung a big leather mailbag. It came nearer and nearer, and men went far out into the surf to steady it, until it was unfastened, lifted down, opened, and the pretty lady, crying and laughing, held her baby in her arms, and the child laughed back at them all.
Men cheered and cheered, and from the ship came answering cheers, while the mother and father of the child knelt down beside the dog, saying, “You saved her, Prince Jan!”
The dog watched vainly for his master. Trip after trip brought men and women to the land, and each one was welcomed wildly. Then Jan, still watching, gave a great “Woof!” and rushed out into the water. The chair was approaching the shore, and in the chair was Jan’s master. A basket was held in the old man’s lap and on it was fastened a bird cage with a badly frightened canary. Through a break in the basket waved Hippity-Hop’s furry paw. Those on the shore scattered as Prince Jan raced among them uttering hysterical yelps until his master stood safely beside him and leaned down catching the dog’s long, soft ears and pulling them gently, while he said over and over, “Jan, Prince Jan! I knew you would do it!”
And so, ninety-one people were brought safely to shore in the boatswain’s chair with the rope that Prince Jan had carried, and the baby that had ridden in the mail sack was kissed and hugged by all those who could get near her.
Then Prince Jan followed the captain, the pretty lady, and the man who walked beside her with the baby perched high on his shoulder, and who had his other arm around the waist of the baby’s mother. A tiny paw reached out of the hamper Captain Smith was carrying, and the dog felt the tap of Hippity-Hop’s paw on his ear. He turned at the touch and put his nose to the basket, and then he saw Cheepsie, fluttering in the cage that was gripped by the old captain’s other hand.
The little party reached the top of a bluff and turned around to look across the rough waves. The deserted ship reeled sideways. Water rose and hid it an instant. When next they looked, there was nothing but the sky with threatening clouds and the wind-lashed sea.
No one spoke as they went up the pathway of a little house where the pretty lady lived. The door was opened, they entered, and then the pretty lady knelt suddenly beside Jan and kissed his head.
“God bless you, Prince Jan!” she whispered.
And though the dog did not understand it, he was very happy because he knew they were all glad.
Look up and define these words:
- Sway –
- Driftwood –
- Boatswain –
- Breaker –
YOUR REACTIONS TO THE CHAPTER
In chapter thirteen, Prince Jan proved himself to be a top-notch rescue dog and a hero to the 93 lives he saved (91 people, 1 bird and 1 cat). Who is a hero in your life? A sports star? An artist or an author? Or maybe a relative. Write about your hero and email your story to email@example.com.
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