["HARBOR LIGHTS," written by Burr Cook, has been on the air for more than two
years and is one of the most popular of the "adventure" broadcasts. The author
makes excellent use of sound-effects and the production itself is a splendid
example of such effects. The script also illustrates the radio practice of "a
play within a play." Each week, the broadcast opens and closes on the ferry-
boat scene. The program runs thirty minutes.--Peter Dixon, 1931]
BY BURR COOK
OPENING ANNOUNCEMENT. The "Harbor Lights!" Once again we go aboard the old New
York ferry-boat, to meet white-haired Captain Jimmy Norton and his young
friend Joe, and hear another of the captain's famous stories of the days of
the clipper-ships and high adventure. All aboard!
[Ferry-boat pulls out. Music.]
JOE. Hello, Captain Jimmy!
CAPT. Howdy, Joe?
JOE. [Short laugh.] All square to the wind?
CAPT. Aye--K-see K-saa, as the French sailors used to say. I got a note from
JOE. Yes. [Steamer whistle in distance.]
CAPT. Aye--said she liked that yarn last week, 'bout the Devil's Sink, and old
JOE. That was a good one. ... Haven't got any more like it, have you?
CAPT. I was just thinkin' 'bout it, son... . I heard many a yarn in my day,
'bout the old swamp.
JOE. The swamp?
CAPT. ... or the Devil's Sink--or the Horse Latitudes--or the Sargossa Sea--
'er whatever ye want to call it. Down where the nor'east and sou'east trades
die out, at the end o' the world.
JOE. [Short laugh.] Well, Helen'll be listening in to-night. ... let's have
another one, if you feel like it. [Toot of tugboat.]
CAPT. But it's queer, too, Joe--there's gen'rally tragedy stalkin' that slimy
green ocean, in the calm and quiet of it.
JOE. It doesn't seem so queer, Captain.
CAPT. Aye, but when Death puts down its hand, there's gen'rally a gale
blowin'--inside or out. And there was nothin' but the swish and roll of an old
derelict and the silence of eternity to keep 'em company--the time Jim Lewis
and Fred Hathaway met the Stranger.
JOE. Death? ... [Bell-buoy ringing.]
CAPT. Aye ... death. Though they'd invited him o' their own accord and only
one of 'em took his hand, at the last. And I'll leave ye to judge which one it
JOE. Well, who were they--Jim Lewis and Fred Hathaway?
CAPT. [Chuckles.] Aye ... I've got ahead o' myself. Jim Lewis was first mate
o' my schooner the Carib, sailin' out o' Boston for 'Frisco--back in the
eighties. A hard-case old seafarin' man ... 'bout forty-five at the time ...
and he had a daughter named Bella--Bell Lewis, folks called her ... and I
reckon she wasn't all she shoulda been.
JOE. What do you mean, Captain?
CAPT. Oh--a pretty gal, 'bout eighteen, but wild and hot-tempered--wantin'
things she couldn't have. Got goin' round with the young sprigs and carryin'
on ... pretty and full o' life ... but sort o' coarse, she was. [Faint steamer
whistle.] I recollect, the day afore we set sail, Bell Lewis ran away from
home--left her pa a note, sayin' not to trouble lookin' for her.
JOE. How did her father take that?
CAPT. He never said a word--dour unforgivin' sort, he was--shipped aboard the
Carib like he'd planned, and put to sea. But I had a notion it had struck
deeper'n he let on.
JOE. And ... Fred Hathaway?
CAPT. [Reminiscent laugh.] Aye ... Fred was a feller 'bout twenty-six or
seven--son o' Preacher Hathaway. He'd been in Cambridge, studyin' to be a
lawyer, and was home that summer. I calc'late the lure o' the sea got into his
blood and all on a sudden, he decided he'd be a sailor. I took him as a hand
afore the mast.
JOE. And you were bound for 'Frisco.
CAPT. Aye. We put in at Pensacola for lumber and then laid our course sou'-by-
sou'east for the Horn. First day out a Florida gulf squall hit us--tore a
whole suit o' sails off the yards and had us wallowin' helpless. I'll never
forget that blow. I was in the cabin, takin' barometer bearin's, when the door
busts open and in comes Jim Lewis, draggin' Hathaway after him.
[Sea sounds--whine of wind--splash of water--thunder in distance.]
NORTON. What's the meanin' o' this, Mr. Lewis?
LEWIS. Meanin' enough, Cap'n Norton! Tryin' to keep afloat in this smoker with
a short-handed crew--and this lubber refusin' to lay aloft!
NORTON. Refusing? ...
LEWIS. Aye--just that! He's got the whole watch grumblin'. If he ain't made to
stand to like a sailor, I won't be responsible for what happens 'mongst the
NORTON. What about it, Hathaway? Are ye afraid to go aloft?
FRED. I'm not afraid, Captain Norton. But I know perfectly well--with the ship
pitching like this--I couldn't make it. I'd be thrown into the sea. I'm not
used to the ratlines and my hands are full of blisters.
LEWIS. Fine talk out of a sailor!
FRED. [Hotly.] You know that this is my first time at sea, Mr. Lewis! I
haven't objected to all the double duty you could find for me, so far, but I'm
not a fool. I have no desire to commit suicide.
NORTON. If ye expect to be a sailor, Hathaway, it's all part o' the business.
What ye have to do, ye'll find ye gen'rally can do--blisters or no blisters.
LEWIS. It's the kind they're breedin' ashore now! Soft sprigs with no stomach
NORTON. I'll deal with this, Mr. Lewis. Till the blow lets down a mite, I'll
keep ye on deck, Hathaway--this time.
HATHAWAY. Thank you, sir.
NORTON. But get it clear--Mr. Lewis here gives orders that I expect to have
obeyed. Aside from layin' aloft, ye'll do what he says.
FRED. I've been doing that, sir.
NORTON. How do ye make the weather, Mr. Lewis?
LEWIS. It's gatherin' again to loo'ard. I got a squar o' tarpaulin from the
aft hatch lashed to the mizzen--keepin' her head into the wind--but the sea's
NORTON. Aye ... it looks bad ... barometer droppin' fast. Best call all hands
LEWIS. What am I to do with this ... water-lily? Lock him under the booby-
FRED. I'll stand my share of work with the rest. But I'm reserving a little
common sense about my abilities.
LEWIS. Judgin' by yer abilities, ye might be some help to cook in the galley--
though that's doubtful! [Rising whine of wind.]
NORTON. Enough o' this now! We got more serious business at hand! Call up the
second watch, Mr. Lewis!
LEWIS. Aye, sir. [Door open and shut to whirl of wind.]
VOICE. [In distance.] All-hands--on--deck! [Ship's bell--six.]
VOICE. [Distant.] Watch sharp, astern! There's a big followin' sea! [Wind and
storm increase. Thunder roars. Crash of wave on deck. Cries of crew.]
NORTON. Cut away that riggin'! All hands look lively! Mind your helm, there!
VOICE. [Excited.] It's smashed off the rudder-head, Cap'n!
NORTON. What! Rudder-head gone?
LEWIS. [Distant.] We're fallin' off! ... [Whine of wind.]
NORTON. [Calls.] Unlimber--the--boats! [Thunder roar.] Every man--for himself!
[Cries of crew. Swirling and hissing of mountain of water approaching astern.]
Here ... she comes! [Crash on deck--thunder--fade out.]
CAPT. Well, sir, that big green mountain o' solid water swept the crew from
stem to stern--tearin' off boats and men and all else that stood in its way.
Last I recollected I was holdin' to a section o' the quarter-deck rail ... and
rail and all smashin' off and bein' swallered up in the sea. Some half-hour
later, me and four men was hangin' to a overturned dory and the Carib had
vanished from sight.
JOE. Gee! And how about Lewis and Hathaway?
CAPT. I'm comin' to that, Joe--comin' to it, by way o' what one of 'em told
me, long afterwards. Myself and three o' the men was picked up a day later by
a freighter, bound for New York. But the Carib hadn't gone under. She was a
staunch schooner and the hull of her stayed afloat, but nothin' much else but
JOE. And Lewis and Hathaway?
CAPT. They was left aboard her, Joe--the two of 'em--only livin' souls that
hadn't gone by the board. And the Carib was a derelict, driftin' helpless down
into the swamp latitudes, deckin' herself with seaweed and leakin', bit by
bit, down to the water-line. Second day, the weather calmed and Jim Lewis went
about takin' stock o' their predicament. He come forrard toward evenin', to
where Fred Hathaway was sittin' on the slopin' fo'castle deck.
[Only slosh of hull rolling from side to side.]
FRED. Well, what's the verdict, Mr. Lewis?
LEWIS. The verdict's food and fresh water to last a week ... a leak under the
aft bulkhead that there's no way o' pluggin' ... but the lumber'll likely keep
us afloat. Enough headroom in the cabin to bunk the two of us ... and a drift
sou'east-by-east that's takin' us the Lord knows where.
FRED. Well ... there's something to be thankful for.
LEWIS. Aye ... a week more o' bein' alive, maybe.
FRED. Isn't there a chance that we'll be sighted by some passing vessel?
LEWIS. If ye had a thimbleful o' sea-lore in that fancy skull, ye'd know we
was driftin' far out o' the trade-routes. Felt the last o' the trade-wind this
FRED. Yes ... I noticed. It's getting quiet and still as death, all about.
LEWIS. We're driftin' with a slow, deep current. Here! Look over the starboard
side ... see how we're smoothin' the water ... a starboard wake ... sou'east-
FRED. [Shudder.] Agh! I've ... often ... wondered ... how it might feel.
FRED. [Pause.] What are these for?
LEWIS. The cap'n's two pistols--loaded with one shot apiece.
FRED. I--I don't understand--
LEWIS. By the end o' seven days ye may understand a heap o' things ye know
nothin' of now. Aye, ye may know the wild cravin' for water ... fear o' the
dark and the filthy critters that creep out o' the deep ... and the fight to
keep yer senses. So--take the pistol and keep it by ye!
FRED. Hmm! I've always felt this was ... the coward's way out, Mr. Lewis.
LEWIS. [Sudden flare of anger.] Then it might be a good way for you ...
FRED. [Some spirit.] What do you mean by that? It's your idea, Mr. Lewis--not
LEWIS. And ye can thank yer stars I've put it in your way. [Gruff laugh.] I've
watched green lubbers like ye afore--breakin' to pieces under the strain. Aye
... with all yer big talk!
FRED. [Quietly.] You won't see me break, Mr. Lewis.
LEWIS. Aye, I'll be watchin' ye each day--and I'll tell ye when yer time's
due! It'll be a show worth lookin' at!
FRED. [Short laugh.] It'll be a pleasant way to spend the time--watching for
each other's ... lapses from the normal.
LEWIS. Ye can do as ye like.
FRED. It would seem saner, to begin with, if we dropped this apparent ill-
feeling. You--you act as though you hated the sight of me.
LEWIS. And so I do!
FRED. May I ask ... why?
LEWIS. Ye'll know that, afore we're through. I'm turnin' in now. Stand till
the middle watch, and I'll relieve ye.
CAPT. So they drifted on for days ... the old Carib beginnin' to smell fishy
and ancient, with weeds and barnacles clingin' to her sides. Sun got hot and
the sea was green and glassy, full o' strange fish that blinked at the sun out
o' starin' pale eyes--a reg'lar pasture-ground o' the Devil's own brood.
JOE. Gee! ... I should think that was enough to drive anybody crazy.
CAPT. They had a sort o' routine o' livin', by then--though the unbroken quiet
and the endless driftin' and lappin' o' waves against the sides began to
frazzle their nerves. Got to be a ritual each mornin'---the one sizin' up the
other ... seekin' some signs o' breakin'. But Hathaway was a cool-headed cuss,
and he kept his mind busy, while Jim Lewis watched the sea and the sky ...
took his bearin's each day . . and bided his time.
JOE. Well ... what happened, Captain?
CAPT. One evenin' they was squattin' on deck, after their meal o' hardtack and
a sip o' water, and somehow the talk shifted to ... home.
[Slosh of water.]
FRED. ... and I dreamed last night of the quays, off the point, back home ...
and Broadacres ... and that cottage cheese Mrs. Evers used to sell in the
Turnpike Creamery. [Nervous laugh.] Back home. ... Do you think we'll--we'll
ever get back?
LEWIS. Partikler anxious to get back ... are ye?
FRED. [Wildly.] Gad! This endless drifting nowhere! It blots out everything--
even the hopes and longings of those first few days! I feel as though I'd
grown in on myself--like a crab with a shell--and all that's left of the
world, is just ... you and me ... and the Carib! Stuffing in a hole--to stop a
LEWIS. Why were ye leavin' Boston in such a rush ... to begin with?
FRED. Why? ...
LEWIS. Aye ... why? I asked ye that yesterday and ye gave me no answer.
FRED. Is it of any ... great importance?
LEWIS. Aye, it may be--twixt you and me!
FRED. What--what do you mean?
LEWIS. [Sharply.] What ails ye? Can't ye look a father in the eye?
FRED. If you'll stop getting ... dramatic ... and say what you mean--
LEWIS. I mean just this--and I been bidin' my time to tell ye: My gal Bella
skipped out o' town ... day afore you took it into yer head to do the same.
FRED. What of it?
LEWIS. Just this of it--I think my gal's got into trouble--account o' you!
FRED. [Low.] Fool!
LEWIS. Aye ... maybe. But you was hangin' round all summer--you and your Sagee
and other good-for-nothin's! [Growing a trifle hysterical.] I tried to raise
her to be a decent God-fearin' woman! Tried to bring her up the way her ma had
gone afore her ... respectin' the things o' the spirit... holdin' herself
clean and upstandin', for some decent man to marry! [Half to himself.] Was it
my fault she was weak as water--gone loose and wild, in the face o' my prayers
and my pleadin'? [Pause.] Aye ... I know the talk and the talkers! Who's to
blame for it? Me? That guided her on a fair course? Or spaverin' young swine
like yerself--and the rest of 'em! Agh!
FRED. [Nervous high-pitched laugh.] Lewis!
LEWIS. Stow it, I tell ye!
FRED. Put down ... the pistol. You're breaking! You're breaking!
FRED. [Nervous laugh again.] If you could see yourself staring like a madman
... trembling like a leaf on a tree! Your senses are leaving you ... Jim
Lewis! And you're talking crazy!
LEWIS. There's still time to find out ... who's talkin' crazy.
FRED. ... Because I spoke to Bell now and again, or walked out with her, to
Morey's and the Park--what's that? You're--you're accusing me without a shred
LEWIS. I don't ask fer proof! I'm tellin' ye what I think. God's got the
proof, right enough! And if ye deserve it, he'll burden yer conscience with
it, 'fore ye're through! [Voice breaks.] I keep seein' her in my dreams ...
the little blond-haired gal I used ter know ... and I keep wonderin' what's
become of her ... if I'll ever see her again.... Aye ... I'd be willin' to
forgive her ... any shame and disgrace ... if I could see her ... again.
FRED. [Nerves strained to the utmost.] Cripes! Stop sniveling, can't you!
[Hysterical cry.] Look! Off there on the horizon! A sail! A sail! [Lowers
voice on realization.] A sail! ... upside down!
LEWIS. You and yer blasted mirages! Stop yellin' that way! Move yer hairy thin
face away ... ye shrunken skeleton!
FRED. [Odd laugh.] It's good you can't see yourself, Lewis--blotched with
scurvy and crawling like a brother of the slimy things overside. He! You're a
squid! All arms and legs and a round head--no body! Get back in the water ...
where you belong! Get back!
LEWIS. [Quietly.] Who's breakin' now? Steady! Stand back!
FRED. Gad ... leave me alone! ... What--what are you listening for?
LEWIS. [Husky whisper.] It's the ... Kraken!
LEWIS. Aye! ... Give me the axe! ... He's climbin' up the taffrail, aft.
FRED. Kill him, Lewis! Chop off his long, slimy arms! Kill him! I can't bear
the sight of him again! [Distant sound of axe-blows and scuffle.]
LEWIS. [Approaching--eerie laugh.] Aye ... I killed him. Here's part of a
tentacle for ye! Look at it--still clawin' and wigglin?
FRED. Throw it off, I tell you! [Low moans.] Water! I'll go crazy without a
touch of water. Water ... Lewis!
LEWIS. [Pause.] I gave out yer share this mornin'--o' what water's left.
FRED. [Stunned.] My share ... of what's ... left?
LEWIS. Aye, just so--the last drop--this mornin'!
CAPT. And so--two days later--barely able to stand ... water and food gone ...
Jim Lewis and Fred Hathaway sat on the slopin' deck o' the fo'castle and
stared off across the green, lazy water. There was a taint o' decay in the
air, and the sun was sinkin' down in a yellow ball behind the western horizon.
Long streamers o' seaweed floated from the lee side o' the wreck, risin' and
fallin' with the slow heave o' the tide.
JOE. Had she sunk any lower, Captain?
CAPT. A mite, maybe--though the lumber in her hold was what kept her afloat.
Lewis finally turned toward Hathaway. He'd pulled the pistol out of his belt.
[Slosh of water. Both men are weak and emaciated.]
LEWIS. ... are ye listenin'?
FRED. [Low, weird voice.] ... Listening to strange voices ... people singing
... a wind ... a wind blowing in the sails ... and Captain Norton calling his
orders. [As though in answer, faintly.] Aye, sir! But I can't go aloft, sir --
not used to the ratlines--and my hands are full of blisters. [Fast and
delicious.] And my feet are blistered, and my tongue and my throat and my
lungs and my soul! Rotted out of shape! Never alive again--any part of me!
LEWIS. [Weak laugh.] Breakin'--breakin', by Harry! Plain daft, ye are!
FRED. No! No! [Steadying himself with effort.] No. ... I'm still ... seeing
straight ... Mister Lewis--straight as a die.
LEWIS. Aye ... like me ... maybe. [Tense.] There! She's comin' now, across the
water. Look at her--my gal Bella! Walkin' the greasy water, searchin' for me--
callin' out to me. [Pitiful cry.] Somethin's happened to her! [Change of
tone.] What are ye starin' at?
FRED. Nothing ... nothing ... nothing ... always nothing, but the sea and
sky! Sea and sky! Sea and sky! And great fountains of fresh water--ice-cold--
tin cups full of fresh water! [Maudlin laugh trails off.]
LEWIS. [Quietly.] Look here ... Hathaway ... we're both ... far gone. It's no
more ... use ... hopin' and waitin'. Take out ... yer pistol.
LEWIS. Can't ye ... hold it steady?
LEWIS. Look at mine ... pointin' at ye!
FRED. I can hold it ... steady ... pointing at your-- Lewis! What's the ...
drama ... all about?
LEWIS. To-morrow, this time ... you and me'll be dead, or dyin'.
FRED. And that ... won't be so ... bad.
LEWIS. Aye, but this is a decenter way to go ... without the last agony of it.
FRED. [Slowly.] Yes ... I guess ... you're right. What then?
LEWIS. [Pause.] I'll count three. Like this--one ... two . . three!
FRED. Yes? ...
LEWIS. When I say ... "Three" ... we'll both fire. That suits ye?
FRED. [Pause.] Go ahead! I say it!
LEWIS. Cock yer pistol, ye fool!
FRED. Aye ... it's cocked.
LEWIS. God forgive us for the evil we done! ... Amen. [Pause.] Ready?
FRED. [Nervous.] I told you ... to go ahead! Count! Count!
LEWIS. I'm ... countin'-- One ... two ...
[A single loud report--followed by gasp of pain, evidently from HATHAWAY.]
JOE. [After pause.] Well ... gee, Captain ... what happened? Who was it fired?
CAPT. Who would ye say, Joe? Which woulda been most likely to break, at the
JOE. Gosh, I don't know! They were both-- Maybe it was Hathaway!
CAPT. Well, that was the funny part of it, son. 'Twas Hathaway that fired.
CAPT. But 'twas Hathaway that was killed.
JOE. I don't understand.
CAPT. Fred Hathaway broke at the last--but for more reasons than appear on the
surface. He shot himself--committed suicide--and toppled over on the deck, in
front o' Jim Lewis.
CAPT. That afternoon an American gunboat, comin' over from the Tripoli coast,
picked up Jim Lewis and the body o' Hathaway and brought him to Boston to
stand trial for murder.
CAPT, Aye ... 'twas all in the papers at the time. Made quite a lot o' talk.
One o' the sensational features o' the trial was the presence o' Bell Lewis,
with a new-born babe in her arms. Cute little trick with red hair and sky-blue
eyes ... looked a heap like ... Fred Hathaway. She took the stand and swore
her pa had reason to kill Fred Hathaway--whether he did or not. ... Aye ...
she was brave, with all her weakness and wildness. Jim was acquitted.
JOE. Well, that was some yarn!
CAPT. And now we're comin' across, Joe.
JOE. Yes, sir. See you next week, Captain.
CAPT. Tell Cap'n Barlow, if ye see him, I'm stiil waitin' to beat him that
last game o' checkers.
JOE. I will--though I understand he's been sick a couple of days.
CAPT. No! Find out, will ye, Joe and let me know tomorrow?
JOE. Sure I will, Captain Jimmy.
CAPT. I ... wouldn't want anything ... to happen to Ned Barlow.
JOE. I guess it's just a cold or something. Good night, Captain.
CAPT. Good night, Joe... . Take care o' yerself!
JOE. I will.
CLOSING ANNOUNCEMENT. And so the "Harbor Lights" fade out and the mists of
memory close around the figure of old Captain Jimmy Norton and we return once
more to everyday scenes.
Cast of tonight's sketch
Captain Jimmy Norton Joe
(In the story)
Norton Fred Hathaway
Jim Lewis A voice
Our Harbor Lights program comes to you from our New York studios as a
presentation of the National Broadcasting Company.
Originally broadcast: circa 1931