Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/June 1879/The United States Life-Saving Service





THE scheme of this service places the long chain of complete life-saving stations on the Atlantic beaches within an average distance of five miles of each other, the object being to maintain the intercommunication of patrol, and effect the speedy assembling of several crews in case of the occurrence of a wreck requiring multiplied efforts. The complete life-saving stations are generally situated just behind the beach, among the low sand-hills common to such localities. They are typically two-story houses, mainly built of tongued and grooved pine, with gable roofs, covered with cypress or cedar shingles, and strong shutters to the windows, and are securely bolted to a foundation of cedar or locust posts, sunk in trenches four feet deep. Their architecture is of the pointed order, somewhat in the chalet style, with heavy projecting eaves and a small open observatory or lookout desk, on the peak of the roof, from which spires a flag-staff. The walls of the houses are painted drab, with darker color for the door and window trimmings, and the roofs dark red. Over the door is a tablet with the inscription "U. S. Life-saving Station." The appearance ofPSM V15 D194 US life saving station.jpgFig. 1.—Life-saving Station. the houses is tasty and picturesque. Their dimensions are from eighteen to twenty feet wide by forty feet long; the later houses are twenty by forty-five. Below they contain two rooms. One of these is the boat-room, about ten feet high, occupying over two thirds of the ground-floor space, or measuring about sixteen by thirty feet, and opening by a broad double-leaf door into the weather. In this are stored the boats, life-car, wreck-gun, and most of the apparatus. The other room, about eight feet high, and measuring about twelve by sixteen feet, is the general living-room of the crew. The second story contains three rooms, one for the storage of the lighter apparatus, one for the sleeping-room of the keeper, and one for that of the men; both of these furnished with cot-beds in sufficient number for the accommodation also of the occasional guests sent to the stations by shipwreck. At stations where there is communication with the Signal Service, there is an additional room in the upper story for the accommodation of the signal officer. The later and better built stations have interior walls of lath and plaster, and are furnished outside with cisterns for the collection of rain-water. The lack of fresh water on the beaches is one of the hardships of station-life.

The life-boat stations are usually twenty-four feet high from base to peak forty-two feet long by twenty-two feet wide, exterior measurements, and contain a loft above, and a room below twelve feet high, twenty feet wide, and forty feet long, for the accommodation of the life-boat and its gear. They are built of matched and grooved pine, with gable roofs shingled with cedar, and are painted like the other stations. They are placed on piles at the water's edge, or set on the inner side of the piers, and are furnished with an incline platform, or trap in the floor, along which the life-boat is let down and launched into the water by a windlass. Over the door of each is a tablet inscribed "U. S. Life-Boat Station."

The houses of refuge are two-story structures, of a style common at the South, with broad gabled roofs, an ample veranda eight feet wide on three sides of the structure, and large chimneys in the rear, built outside of the wall. The houses are of pine, raised about six feet from the ground on light wood posts, and the roofs shingled with cypress. Instead of glass, the windows are fitted with wire-gauze mosquito netting. The houses are about thirty-seven feet long by fifteen feet wide, not including the veranda space. The upper story is a loft, the lower has three apartments. Each house has capacity for succoring twenty-five persons, with provisions to feed that number for ten days. A boat-house is provided for each station, furnished with a galvanized iron boat with sculls.

A complete life-saving station, fully equipped, costs about $5,000; a life-boat station about $4,500; and a house of refuge about $3,000.

The stations are fully equipped with all minor appurtenances apposite to their purpose, such as anchors, grapnels, axes, shovels, boat hooks, and wreckers' materials and implements generally; and those which are inhabited are also furnished with stoves, cot-beds, mattresses, blankets, and the utensils requisite for rude housekeeping. The crews find their own provisions. The stations are also provided with all the most approved appliances for saving life from wrecks. First among these is the six-oared surf-boat, the light weight and draught of which make it the only boat yet found suitable for service for the flat beaches and shoaling water of the Atlantic and Gulf coast. Though not invariably of the same model, it is usually of cedar, with white-oak frames, without keel, varying in dimensions, but generally from twenty-five to twenty-seven feet long, from five and one half to six feet wide, and from two feet three inches to two feet six inches in least depth. It has commonly air-cases at the ends and along the interior sides under the thwarts, which make it insubmergible, and is fitted with cork fenders running along the outer sides to protect it against collision with hulls or wreckage. Its weight is from 700 to 1,000 pounds. It is guided by a long steering oar, the steersman standing in the stern. In the hands of the skilled surfmen of our coasts, it is capable of marvelous action, and few sights are more impressive than the passage out through the flashing breakers of the frail red boat, lightly swimming on the vast intumescence of the surge, held in suspension before the roaring and tumultuous comber, or darting forward as the wall of water breaks and crumbles, obedient to the oars of the impassive crew. Though sometimes thrown back and broken in desperate and unavailing efforts at a launch against a resistless

PSM V15 D196 Surf boat on its carriage.jpg

Fig. 2.—Surf-Boat upon its Carriage.

sea, this boat, which might be upset easily, has rarely in the history of the service been capsized in passing through the surf, so great is the skill of her gallant oarsmen; and certain great surfmen, like Captain Hildreth, of Station 39, New Jersey, say that in it they will face any sea in which a life-boat can live.

On the Lakes and the Pacific coast, where steep shores or piers command deep water, and by mechanical contrivances heavy boats can be launched directly into it, the English life-boat is in general use. This wonderful contrivance, the result of a century of repeated effort, is of massive strength and stability. It is built of double diagonals of mahogany. The size generally in use in this country is about twenty-seven feet in length, a little over seven feet broad, three feet eight inches deep, carrying eight oars, double-banked, and weighing when empty 4,000 pounds. It is self-righting and self-bailing. In other words, when thrown over, which is difficult to be done, by a heavy sea, it instantly rights and empties. The first of these two extraordinary characteristics, to which a great number of advantages are sacrificed, is effected by a ponderous false keel of iron, which gives the lower part of the boat a constant determination. toward the water, while an equal determination from the water is maintained for the upper portion of the boat by a distribution of air-cases at the sides and ends, scientifically proportioned. The self-bailing characteristic is effected by a deck adjusted with reference to the draught of the boat, so that, whatever be the load of the latter, the deck is above the load-line; and, being

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Fig. 3.—Self-Righting Life-Boat upon its Carriage.

fitted with tubes extending vertically down through the bottom of the boat, it follows that whatever water the boat takes on board falls through the tubes, in obedience to the law which. compels fluids to seek their level, and leaves the deck free. The delivery tubes are furnished with self-acting valves, opening to the downward pressure of the water shipped by the boat, and shutting to the pressure of the jets from below. Cork ballast adds by its weight to the stability of the boat, and augments its buoyancy in case the boat be stove. Two masts, made detachable, are provided, fitted with two low lug-sails and a jib. The boat is wellnigh invulnerable, but its great weight and draught, and the resistance its high bows offer to the wind, often make its towage by steam-tug necessary to enable it to reach a wreck at a distance. Particular attention is given to the stowage of its ropes, lines, anchors, and other articles carried in life-boats, these being arranged by a strict method with reference to economy of space and facility of use, and always kept on board, ready for service, lest any of them should be forgotten in the excitement of a sudden summons for wreck duty. Carriages of a peculiar construction are provided in England for the transportation and launching of these boats, PSM V15 D198 Deck plan of a self righting boat.pngFig. 4.—Deck-Plan of Self-Righting Life-Boat, showing Manner of stowing Gear. together with skids and rollers for returning them to their carriages; but at present in this country they are let down by the trap or inclined platform directly into the. water, the station being always at the water's edge. The surf-boats are provided with carriages, by which they are hauled from the stations abreast of wrecks. They are four-wheeled, with bed-pieces between each pair of wheels, on which the boat rests, and a long bar or reach connecting the front and back wheels, made separable half-way to enable the boat to be lowered to the ground by withdrawing a portion of the carriage. The American life-boat, invented by Captain J. M. Richardson, Superintendent of the First Life-saving District, five specimens of which are now in use, would seem to be better adapted for the service on our coast than the English, being considerably lighter and of less draught, and equally self-righting and self-bailing. PSM V15 D198 Eprouvette mortar faking box and match stave.jpgFig. 5.—Éprouvette Mortar, Faking-Box, and Match-Stave.

When boat service at a wreck is impracticable, resort is had to life-saving ordnance. The gun first in use was an éprouvette mortar, of cast iron, weighing 288 pounds, throwing a twenty-four pound spherical ball with a line attached thereto, its extreme range being 421 yards. This gave place to the Parrott gun, of cast iron, with a steel tube or lining, weighing, with its ash-wood carriage, 266 pounds, carrying a twenty-four pound, elongated projectile, with a maximum range of 473 yards. The Lyle gun, which has superseded these, is of bronze, smooth bore, weighing 185 pounds, with a cylindrical line-carrying shot weighing seventeen pounds, and a range of 695 yards. The reduction in weight over the lightest previous ordnance is 110 pounds, and the increase in range over the old éprouvette is 274 yards. Other advantages of the Lyle gun are its strength, owing to the tenacity and ductility of its material, its freedom from corrosion, and its exemption from the erosive action of gases, there being little windage, and from wear by the projectile, this being nearly the length of the bore. The projectile has a shank protruding four inches from the muzzle of the gun, to an eye in which the line is tied—a device which PSM V15 D199 The lyle gun.jpgFig. 6.—Lyle Gun. prevents the line from being burned off by the ignited gases in firing. The shot-line is made of unbleached linen thread, very closely and smoothly braided, is waterproofed, and has great elasticity, which tends to insure it against breaking. The lines in use are of varying thicknesses, according to circumstances, ranging from one eighth to three eighths of an inch, and their length varies from 500 to 700 yards. The shot-line is carried in a faking-box—a wooden chest with handles for convenience in carrying. There are two or three sizes in use, the dimensions of the largest being about three feet long by one and a half wide, and a foot deep. Connected PSM V15 D199 Frame and pins of shot line in faking box.jpgFig. 7.—Method of withdrawing Frame and Pins from Shot-Line in Faking-Box. with it is a frame, a little larger than the box, with a row of wooden pins set vertically into its four sides. A false bottom, which is a tablet of wood pierced with holes corresponding to the pins, is let down over them until it reaches their bases, and rests upon the frame. In disposing the shot-line, the faker begins at the corner, and coils it in successive diagonal loops or fakes over the pins, layer above layer, until the line is completely rove. The box is then let down over the pins, and fastened at each end to the frame. It is now ready for transportation to the scene of a wreck. When brought there, it is turned upside down, disclosing the false bottom, with the frame superimposed upon it. Two men, one at each end of the box, release the fastenings, and, each pressing his foot upon the false bottom to keep it down, the two lift off the frame, bringing away the pins with it. The false bottom is then lifted off the line, which remains in the box, disposed in the layers of diagonal loops or fakes made by the pins. The line is thus arranged to pay out freely, and fly to a wreck without entanglement or friction. The end is now tied into the eye of the shank of the shot in the gun; the box, which is always placed a few feet to the windward of the gun, is canted up on one side at an angle of about forty-five degrees; and the line is ready for firing. The line is always brought ready faked to the scene of action and fired from the box. In case a second shot is necessary, the line is laid out in large loops upon a tarpaulin spread out upon the beach, which is called French faking. This is done to save time,

PSM V15 D200 Firing shot line to wreck.jpg

Fig. 8.—Firing Shot-Line to Wreck.

twenty-five or thirty minutes being requisite to fake a line properly in the box; but it is less desirable, as exposure to the flying sand or the rain or spray lessens the range by impeding the flight of the line. When the shot-line reaches the wreck, the shore end is connected with the whip or hauling line. This is an endless rope or ellipse, an inch and a half in circumference, and long enough to reach from the shore to the vessel. It is reeved through a pulley-block, having attached to it to several feet of rope called a tail. The shot-line is tied around both parts of the whip, a few feet above the pulley-block, and the crew of the vessel at a signal haul the whip on board by means of the shot-line. With it goes a tablet called a tally-board, on which are printed, in French upon one side and in English upon the other, directions for properly setting up the whip-line on the vessel. When this is done, a signal is made to the shore, and a hawser of sufficient length and four inches in circumference, to which is attached another tally-board, bearing printed directions in English and French for its disposition, is tied to one part of the whip or hauling line, and is sent out to the vessel by the life-saving crew pulling upon the other part. Obeying the directions of this tally-board, the men on the ship fasten the hawser to the mast about eighteen inches above the hauling-line. A crotch, made of two pieces of wood, three by two inches thick and ten feet long, crossed near the top, so as to form a sort of X, and bolted together, is erected, and the shore end of the hawser is drawn over the intersection. A sand-anchor, composed of two pieces of hard wood, six feet long, eight inches wide, and two inches thick, crossed at their centers, bolted together, PSM V15 D201 Crotch hawser and sand anchor.jpgFig. 9.—Crotch, Hawser, and Sand-Anchor. and furnished at the center with a stout iron ring, is laid obliquely in a trench dug behind the crotch. An iron hook, from which runs a strap of rope, having at its other end an iron ring called a bull's-eye, is now fastened into the ring of the sand-anchor. This strap connects by the bull's-eye with a double pulley-block at the end of the hawser behind the crotch, by which the hawser is drawn and kept taut. The trench is solidly filled in, and the imbedded sand-anchor, held by the lateral strain against the side of the trench, sustains the slender bridge of rope constituted by the hawser.

If there are a large number of persons to be saved, the life-car is used. This is a covered boat of galvanized sheet-iron, eleven feet four inches long, four feet eight inches wide, and three feet deep, PSM V15 D201 Life car with hawser and hauling lines.jpgFig. 10.—Life-Car, with Hawser and Hauling-Lines. weighing 225 pounds, which will hold six or seven persons. It is covered with a hatch, and has a few perforations made in the top from the inside, which admit air, while their raised edges exclude water. It is suspended on the hawser by bails and rings, to which are also attached the hauling-lines, all these ropes being arranged to it before the hawser is fastened behind the crotch. It is evident that, by pulling on one part of the hauling-line, the life-saving crew can send out the suspended life-car to the vessel above the surface of the sea, and, when it has received its load, draw it back to the shore by pulling on the other part. Its use has been uniformly successful, 201 persons having been saved by it from the immigrant ship Ayrshire at its first trial, in a sea which made boat service impossible and which utterly destroyed the vessel. Another mode of using the life-car is the following: By means of the shot-line, a single hauling-line, something more than the length of the distance of the wreck from the shore, is drawn on board, the end of it being made fast to a ring at one extremity of the life-car. To a ring at the other extremity a similar hauling-line is attached, the end of which remains on shore. By the first hauling-line the car is dragged out through the water, as a boat, by those on board, and, having received its load, is dragged back again through the water by the line handled by the men on land. This method of working the life-car is resorted to under certain exigencies, but is less desirable than the other, because, although the people it contains are safe, the car is liable to be turned over and over in its passage through the breakers, much to their discomfort.

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Fig. 11.—Rescue by Breeches-Buoy.

The large majority of the vessels now stranded upon our coasts being coasters (schooners and barks), with crews of from six to ten men, the breeches-buoy is more commonly used. This is a much lighter contrivance, and therefore easier to transport and handle, weighing only twenty-one pounds, and requiring for its use less heavy cordage, the difference in weight between the two with their appendages amounting to over 500 pounds. It consists of a common circular life-preserver of cork, seven and a half feet in circumference, to which short canvas breeches are attached. Four rope lanyards fastened to this circle of cork meet above in an iron ring, which is attached by a strap around a block, with composition sheaves, and is

PSM V15 D203 Breeches buoy with hauling line no hawser and block.jpg

Fig. 12.—Using the Breeches-Buoy with Hauling-Line without Hawser and Traveling Block.

called a traveler. The hawser passes through this block, and the suspended breeches-buoy is drawn between ship and shore by hauling-lines, like the life-car. At each trip it receives but one person, who gets into it, sitting, holding to the lanyards, sustained by the canvas saddle, with his legs dangling below, and is pulled swiftly ashore. When there is imminent danger of the breaking up of the vessel, and great haste is required for the rescue, the hawser is sometimes dispensed with, one part of the hauling-line being used for the buoy to travel upon.

The apparatus having to be drawn by the men where horses are not accessible, a hand-cart is provided for this purpose, strongly built, with large wheels having five-inch tires to keep them as much as possible from sinking into the sand. The surf-boat is dragged in the same way on its carriage.

A medicine-chest is furnished for each station. It contains wine and brandy, mustard plasters, volatile salts, probangs, and a few other simple remedies and appliances for reviving exhausted persons or aiding to restore those apparently drowned, printed directions for the use of which are pasted within the lid of each chest. A method of resuscitation is published in the regulations of the service, which is also practically taught to every member of the crews by the visiting surgeon. The method is that of Dr. Benjamin Howard, of New York, with certain modifications by Dr. John M. Woodworth, late Supervising Surgeon-General of the U. S. Marine Hospital Service. Its extreme simplicity of application and great general utility merit for it a particular description. It begins with the attempt to arouse the patient, who must not be removed, unless there is danger of his freezing, but his face exposed to the fresh air, the mouth and nostrils wiped dry, the clothing quickly ripped open so as to expose the chest and waist, and two or three quick, smarting slaps given upon the stomach and chest with the open hand. If the patient does not at once revive, a bit of wood or a cork is placed between his teeth to keep the mouth open, he is turned upon his face, a large bundle of tightly rolled clothing is placed beneath the stomach, and the operator presses heavily upon his back over the bundle for half a minute, or as long as fluid

PSM V15 D204 Life saving assisting ejection of fluids.jpg

Fig. 13.—The First Step taken, by which the Chest is emptied of Air, and the Ejection of Fluids is assisted.

flows freely from his mouth. (See Fig. 13.) The mouth and throat are then cleared of mucus by introducing into the throat the end of a handkerchief wrapped closely around the forefinger; the patient is turned upon his back, under which the roll of clothing is placed so as to raise the pit of the stomach above the level of any other part of the body. If an assistant is present, he holds the tip of the patient's tongue, with a piece of dry cloth, out of one corner of the mouth, which prevents the tongue from falling back and choking the entrance to the windpipe, and with his other hand grasps the patient's wrists and keeps the arms stretched back over the head, which increases the prominence of the ribs and tends to enlarge the chest. The operator then kneels astride the patient's hips and presses both hands below the pit of the stomach, with the balls of the thumb resting on each side of it and the fingers between the short ribs, so as to get a good grasp of the waist. (See Fig. 14.) He then throws his weight forward on his hands, squeezing the waist between them with a strong pressure, counts slowly one, two, three, and, with a final push, lets go, which springs him back to his first kneeling position. This operation, which converts the chest of the patient into a bellows, is continued at a rate gradually increased from four to fifteen times in a minute, and with the regularity observable in the natural motions of breathing which are thus imitated. If natural breathing is not restored in three or four minutes, the patient is turned a second time upon the stomach in an opposite direction from that in which he was first turned, the object being to free the air-passages from any remaining water. The artificial

PSM V15 D205 Life saving procedure for artificial respiration.jpg

Fig. 14.—The Position and Action of the Operator in producing Artificial Respiration.

respiration is then resumed and continued if necessary from one to four hours, or until the patient breathes, and when life appears the first short gasps are carefully aided by the same method. From the first, if assistants are present, the limbs of the patient are rubbed, always in an upward direction toward the body and with firmness and energy, the bare hands being used, or dry flannels or handkerchiefs, and the friction kept up under blankets, or over dry clothing. The warmth of the body is also promoted whenever possible by the application of hot flannels to the stomach and armpits, and bottles or bladders of hot water, or heated bricks, to the limbs and the soles of the feet. As soon as breathing is established, the patient is stripped of all wet clothing, wrapped in blankets only, put to bed comfortably warm, but with a free circulation of fresh air, and left to perfect rest. For the first hour a little hot brandy-and-water, or other stimulant, is given every ten or fifteen minutes, and as often afterward as may be expedient. After reaction is established the patient is in great danger of congestion of the lungs, and unless perfect rest is maintained for at least forty-eight hours he may be seized with difficulty of breathing, and death ensue if immediate relief is not afforded. In such cases a large mustard plaster is placed upon his chest, and, if he gasps for breath before the mustard takes effect, his breathing is assisted by the careful repetition of the artificial respiration. In connection with this process the surfmen are instructed to consider the clinching of the jaws and semi-contraction of the fingers, which have been considered signs of death, to be on the contrary evidences of vitality, and to borrow from them hope and confidence for redoubled effort in the work of resuscitation. This is a discovery of Dr. Labordette, of the Hospital of Lisieux, in France. He found by numerous experiments that the jaws and hands relax when death ensues, rigor mortis supervening later.

The Merriman life-saving suit is supplied to the stations, and often proves useful by enabling surfmen to effect rescues of individuals struggling in the breakers, and even to reach wrecks and assist benumbed crews to set up the life-lines. It consists of footed pantaloons of India-rubber, and above the waist of a double ply of the same material covering all but the face, and inflated severally in breast, back, and head, between the plies, by three rubber tubes. Being thus buoyant, and also impervious to air, its wearer can neither drown nor freeze. Since its original introduction at the stations, the exploits of Paul Boyton have given it celebrity.

Upon occasions of boat-service, the life-saving crews are required by regulation to wear the cork life-belts devised by Captain Ward, the Inspector of the Royal National Life-Boat Institution of Great Britain. These life-belts weigh severally only four and a half pounds;

PSM V15 D206 Life saving clothes and cork life belt.jpg
Fig. 15.—Life-saving Dress. Fig. 16.—Cork Life-Belt.

are flexible, being composed of a series of small blocks of cork strung together; have crenellations under the arms, leaving those members unimpeded in action; and, by rendering the surfmen secure from drowning, double their efficiency to assist others in case of exigency.

The stations are opened for service on the seaboard from September 1st to May 1st, or for a shorter period wherever deemed prudent, and on the Lakes from the opening to the close of navigation. Strict watch and ward is maintained during this period—at the life-boat stations by lookout, and at the complete life-saving stations by patrol. The period between sunset and dawn is divided into watches, each kept by two men of the crew of six at the several stations. In conformity with this routine, two men issue at sunset from each coast station. They carry beach lanterns and are provided with Coston signals, which are cylindrical cases of combustible materials, fitted into percussion holders. One man goes to the right, the other to the left, each continuing along the beach, keeping watch to seaward, until he meets a similar patrolman from the next station, when he returns to the starting-point, where he sets out again, keeping up his march until the term of his watch expires and that of the next patrol begins. Thus, every night, along the ocean beaches, in moonlight, starlight, thick darkness, driving tempest, wind, rain, snow, or hail, a file of sentinels is strung out, steadily marching, on the lookout for endangered vessels. The duty is arduous, often terrible. Storm tides flooding the beach, quicksands, the bewildering snowfall, overwhelming blasts, bitter cold, are often conditions to the journey. The result is that, should a vessel strand, which usually takes place on some shoal or bar at from one to four hundred yards' distance from the beach, instead of being left unnoticed for many hours, to be torn to pieces by the furious surf, she is sure to be soon discovered by the patrolman. Seeing her, he at once strikes the bottom of his percussion holder, driving its spike into the Coston cartridge, which ignites with a fierce deflagration, reddening the darkness, and notifying those on board the wreck that they are seen. The patrolman then races to his station and brings the crew. The keeper knows by the state of the surf whether the boat can be used, or whether to resort to the life-car, or breeches-buoy. The boat always puts out if possible, this being the speediest mode of succor. If the surf be impassable, the wreck-gun casts its lariat over the wreck, the hawser and hauling-lines are set up, and the imperiled seafarers are drawn ashore. By whatever mode the rescue is effected, it involves hours of racking labor, protracted exposure to the roughest weather, and a mental and bodily strain under the spur of exigency and the curb of discipline which greatly exhausts the life-saving crews. In the case of the boat-service, whether by surf-boat or life-boat, tremendous perils are added to new hardships. The result of these gallant toils in the rigors of the winter beach and the drench of the surf, since the date of original organization in 1871, has been extraordinary. During this period of eight years statistics show that there have been, within the scope of life-saving operations, 6,287 persons imperiled on stranded vessels. Of these, 5,981 were saved, and only 306 lost—197 of these at wrecks remote from stations, or at times when they were closed, and the others, in nearly every instance, under circumstances which rendered human aid impossible. During this period the stations have also given succor to 1,382 persons. Their crews have, moreover, notably performed wreckers' duty, and saved large amounts of marine property. The virtue of organization is attested by these results, but large credit must always be given to the noble fidelity, capability, and dauntless courage of the stout groups of seven who man the lonely stations. Wherever native manliness is held in honor, these heroic Pleiads of the seaboard beaches, and the gangs of nine who drive the life-boats through overwhelming seas upon the Lakes and the Pacific, with hearts greater than danger, can never fail of their meed.