Adrift in an open lifeboat with too many passengers, a hurricane approaches. With the death of the captain, command (along with a symbolic pistol) falls to the Chief Steward. When the boat stops to pick up a ship's officer, the officer, seeing how overcrowded the lifeboat is, elects to swim away. As he swims away, he prophetically shouts: "You can't save us all!"
How the Chief Steward alone makes life and death decisions that result in the survival of the boat and its remaining passengers is the main theme of the story. Without his merciless goading, all would have been lost. Safe on dry land, the survivors turn on their savior in a court case. He ends up being convicted and going to prison.
Throughout the hurricane, he constantly exhorts the others to "Row!" and to "Bail!" Undoubtedly, his grim leadership carried the day.
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