Quotes Bread upon the waters


I went into the dock under her. Her plates were pitted till the men that were paint, paint, paintin’ her laughed at it. But the warst was at the last. She’d a great clumsy iron nineteen-foot Thresher propeller—Aitcheson designed the Kite’s—and just on the tail o’ the shaft, before the boss, was a red weepin’ crack ye could ha’ put a penknife to. Man, it was an awful crack.


This is from “Bread upon the Waters” (1895) collected in The Day’s Work.

McPhee, Chief Engineer of the shipping line of Holdock, Steiner and Chase, is sacked, unreasonably, for refusing to force his ship, the Breslau, to commit to timings across the Atlantic that he insists she cannot keep.

He keeps tabs on the doings of the company, and finds out that they are intending to send a big freighter, the Grotkau, to sea with a great crack in her propeller shaft.

McPhee, now working for a rival shipping line, is now Chief Engineer of another vessel, The Kite. He trails the Grotkau in heavy weather, down the Irish Sea, and round Ireland, until she is disabled when her propeller falls off.

Providentially, the crew are rescued by a Mail steamer, which is not allowed to tow, leaving The Kite to pick her up and tow her to safety, after McPhee, at peril of his life, has taken a line across to her. The Kite‘s crew get salvage money, McPhee becomes a rich man, and Holdock’s are ruined.