The Sandman: His Ship Stories  by Willliam J. Hopkins

The Launching Story

O NCE upon a time there was a wide river that ran into the ocean, and beside it was a little city. And in that city was a wharf where great ships came from far countries. And a narrow road led down a very steep hill to that wharf, and anybody that wanted to go to the wharf had to go down the steep hill on the narrow road, for there wasn't any other way. And because ships had come there for a great many years, and all the sailors and all the captains and all the men who had business with the ships had to go on that narrow road, the flagstones that made the sidewalks were much worn. That was a great many years ago.

The river and the ocean are there yet, as they always have been and always will be; and the city is there, but it is a different kind of a city from what it used to be. And the wharf is slowly falling down, for it is not used now; and the narrow road down the steep hill is all grown up with weeds and grass.

A great many years ago, when the ships still came to the wharf, a man had made a shipyard beside that wide river. And, in that shipyard, he had built the brig Industry  for Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob, and it was all done, as much as ships are ever done before they are put in the water. And Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob had been to see the brig Industry, and they had set the day on which she should be launched.

So the master of the shipyard was very busy, getting things ready for the launching. First, he had the men dig away the bank of the river just below the Industry, and make it slope the same, both in the water and out, so that she should slide down easily until she floated. But a ship will not slide down with only dirt to go on. There has to be a slippery place for it to slide on.

So the men got great timbers, which are logs that have been made all square and smooth, and they laid them down in two rows, under the sides of the Industry. They laid the timbers away under the water, so that the ship should slide on them until she floated, and not go off the ends into the mud. And they joined the ends of the timbers in each row so that each row of timbers was just as if it had been a single timber, and they made them strong enough to bear the weight of the ship without sinking into the dirt or getting out of place. These timbers they call the ways, and they were just like a great wooden railroad track from the bows of the Industry  all the way under the water.

When the ways were done, the men took other great timbers and put them on top of the ways, and fastened them together strongly. These were the sliding ways, and they were almost as long as the ship. They would slide down with the ship, over the great wooden railroad track. And the men put strong braces from the keel of the ship to the sliding ways, and they fastened great planks so that the sliding ways should not slide off sidewise.

Then they put short timbers straight up from the sliding ways to the sides of the Industry, and they fastened planks to the sides of the ship, for these straight-up timbers to hold on by. There were a great many of these short timbers, and they were fastened together and well braced to the sliding ways, so that they couldn't fall over, and under each one of them were wedges. For the weight of the ship was still borne by the keel, that rested on blocks on the ground. But when these wedges were driven in, it would make the posts press on the planks that were fastened to the sides of the ship, and it would lift the ship a little, so that the men could knock out the keel blocks with their beetles. And then, if the ways were all greasy, the ship would begin to slide.

And at last everything was done, the ways, and the sliding ways, and the framework that would carry the ship. And this framework, made up of the short posts and the braces and the sliding ways, is sometimes called the cradle. And the master of the shipyard sent and got enough of the best of the right kind of grease, and he had the men grease the ways. And the men put on a lot of grease, —barrels of it,—and they made sure that nothing should go wrong.

And the master of the shipyard had a long stick stuck in one of the mast holes of the Industry. This stick was not long enough for a mast, but it was to hoist a flag on, and it would be taken down after the brig was launched. And the launching was set for the next day.

And the next day came, and it was a bright and beautiful day, which made the heart of the master glad. And pretty soon the people began to come from the city, for they knew that the brig Industry  would be launched that day, and that city was only a little way from the shipyard. So they kept coming and coming, and they crowded as near to the Industry  as the master would let them, but he wouldn't let them get very near for fear that some of them might get hurt. And when it was nearly time for the launch, there were so many people there that it was a wonder that any were left in the city. And, last of all, came Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob, and Captain Jonathan's daughter Lois. This was before Captain Jonathan's daughter Lois was Captain Jacob's wife.

And the master met them and led them right through the crowd, and many people bowed to Lois or spoke to her, for she knew nearly everybody there. And they went up on a sloping plank that had been fastened for the carpenters to use in building the ship, and they went right up until they stepped upon the deck. It was a long way up, as long as from the ground to the roof of a house.. Then the master of the shipyard looked, and he saw that the tide was almost high, and he walked to the side of the Industry  and raised his hand.



When the master raised his hand, all the people were suddenly very still, and the men began to drive in the wedges with their beetles. And no sound was in that shipyard but the sound of the beetles as they drove in the wedges. And at last the wedges were driven in enough, so that the brig Industry  almost began to slide, and Captain Jonathan's daughter Lois got up into the bows as far as she could. And in her hand she held a bottle of wine.

Then the master gave another signal and the men knocked out the last things that held the vessel. And, very slowly at first, the Industry  began to slide.

And Captain Jonathan spoke to his daughter Lois. "Now, Lois," he said.

And Lois heard him, and she lifted the bottle of wine high, and brought it down hard on the upper part of the stem. "I christen thee Industry!" she cried, as loud as she could.

And the bottle smashed, and the wine ran down upon the stem; and all the people saw Lois smash the bottle, and they saw the wine running down upon the stem of the Industry, and they raised a great shout. And the master hoisted a flag up on the make-believe mast, and the flag was all folded up. But as soon as it got to the top of the mast, the master pulled the other end of the rope hard, and the flag unfolded and waved in the breeze. It was a long white flag with a blue border, and on it, in blue letters, was the word "Industry ."

So the flag waved while the Industry  slid faster and faster; and the people kept on shouting until she struck the water with a tremendous splash and sent the spray flying high. And she was going so fast that she kept on, in the water, until she had gone nearly the whole way across the river. Then she stopped, for there was a rope that was fastened to her by one end, and by the other end to a great log that was buried in the ground so that it stuck a little way straight up. And the rope got tight, so that she couldn't go any farther, and the men all pulled on the rope together, and every time they gave a pull they called out something that was like a song, but it wasn't a song. "O, rouse him, boys!" "O, ho, ye-o." "Ye—o, ho—ho." This made the pulling easier.


And the Industry  came back slowly, and they steered her, and she came up beside the wharf of the shipyard. And they tied her to the wharf with great ropes, and the launching was over. So all the people went home, and as they went, they talked about the launching, and said how well the master of the shipyard had done it.

Then some men rowed out on the river and got the cradle, for it was not fastened to the Industry  strongly, and it had floated out from under her in the water. That was just what they meant it should do, for it was the easiest way to get it out. And they fastened a rope to the cradle and rowed ashore with the other end of the rope. Then the men pulled the cradle ashore.

And Lois leaned upon the rail, and watched them until they had pulled it in, and then she turned away. And Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob came up, and Lois joined them, and they all walked down a plank with little ups on it, for the Industry  was light, and it was high tide, so that it was still a long way from her deck to the wharf. And when they had got down on the wharf, they walked home slowly, too, and they talked about the launching.

And that's all.