By BRAYTON NORTON
ILLUSTRATED BY DAN SAYRE GROESBECK
INDIANAPOLIS THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright 1921 SUNSET MAGAZINE, INC.
Copyright 1921 THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO. BOOK MANUFACTURERS BROOKLYN, N.Y.
To MY WIFE "STERLING"
I FORBIDDEN WATERS 1
II JETSAM OF THE SEA 10
III TANGLED THREADS 18
IV THE WORK OF THEIR FATHERS 30
V THE WAY OF THE GULL 48
VI THE LAW OF THE FISHERMEN 63
VII YOU'LL HAVE TO SHOW ME 72
VIII A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE 77
IX DIABLO LUCK 83
X SALVAGE 93
XI REFUSING TO BE BLUFFED 105
XII A WARNING 118
XIII THE STRIKE 133
XIV THE MOTHER OF INVENTION 145
XV BUSINESS AND PLEASURE 160
XVI THE BAITED PAWN 169
XVII THE FANGS OF MASCOLA 180
XVIII THE COST OF DEFEAT 186
XIX ROCK FOLLOWS UP 196
XX PLANS FOR A SHOW-DOWN 211
XXI THE GRAY GHOST 222
XXII STRICTLY ON THE DEFENSIVE 237
XXIII BATTLE OF NORTHWEST HARBOR 245
XXIV A FIGHTING CHANCE 253
XXV THE BANKER AT THE HELM 264
XXVI THE VALUE OF PUBLICITY 280
XXVII TO SOLVE THE MYSTERY 291
XXVIII THE ISLAND'S PRISONER 304
XXIX UNDER ORDERS 315
XXX THE FIGHT IN THE CAVE 325
XXXI BENEATH THE WATERS 340
XXXII FOR ALL THE WORLD TO KNOW 352
Richard Gregory stirred restlessly in his sleep vaguely aware of an unfamiliar sound, a faint tapping, insistent, disturbing. He wakened sharply and sat bolt upright, conscious of the fact that he was fully dressed. Then he remembered.
"All right, Bill," he called softly. "Coming."
It took but a minute to shove his automatic into his pocket and secure his rifle from the corner. Groping his way to the door he stood shivering on the threshold, staring into the thick gray fog which enveloped him.
A hand touched his shoulder. Strong fingers tightened on his arm.
"This way," a low voice directed. "Careful, don't scuff."
Gregory started to speak but a warning pressure of the big fingers restrained him. His companion led the way. He followed in silence. Through the winding streets of the little fishing village they went, the familiar landmarks about them looming grotesque and mystical in the low-hanging fog. At length the acrid air of the sea assailed their nostrils and the silence of the night was broken by the noisy splashing of a marsh-loon.
Bill Lang stopped suddenly. Faintly through the gray void came the muffled gulping of an under-water exhaust. Huddled together they stood listening. To Richard Gregory the sound indicated only the slow approach of a motor-boat. To the trained ear of the fisherman it meant that Mexican Joe was on time with the Sea Gull.
Lang led on down the loosely boarded wharf piled high with ill-smelling fish-boxes and paused at the head of a narrow gangway, looking back, listening. Close by the dock Gregory discerned the outline of a fishing-boat, magnified by the fog into whimsical proportions. Descending cautiously, he followed Lang aboard and groped his way into the protecting shelter of the engine-house. The cold mist clung to his flesh and he drew his coat closer about him. The soft breathing of the heavy-duty motor became more pronounced, more labored. The clutch was in. They were backing out into the stream. He glanced above him at the stay where the starboard side-lamp hung. But the grayness was unbroken by a single ray of green.
Lang was running dark.
It was taking a long chance on such a night as this, Gregory reflected. But then the whole business was a long chance. And Lang knew his business.
Imbued with a fisherman's sixth sense of feeling his way along familiar channels rendered unfamiliar by fog, Bill Lang piloted his craft skilfully down the silent bay in the direction of the open sea.
Crouching in the bow, Mexican Joe sought with cat-like eyes to pierce the gray veil of blinding fog. Narrowly averting collision with unlighted harbor-boats, bumping at times over sandy shoals, plowing through grass-grown mud-flats and skirting dangerous reefs with only the smallest margin of safety, they came at last to the jettied outlet of Crescent Bay.
The roar of the breakers sounded ominously close through the gray canopy of fog. The little craft rocked briskly in the trough of the swell as Lang threw the wheel over and headed out to sea. Flashing a small light over the compass, which served as an improvised binnacle, he peered intently at the instrument. Then he spoke softly to the man forward.
"Take the wheel, Joe."
When the Mexican had relieved him Lang bent low over the compass and examined his watch. Then he joined Gregory.
"Twelve o'clock," he announced. "We've got to make Diablo before daybreak. Sixty-five miles in less than four hours. That means hurry in weather like this."
He turned to the man at the wheel.
"Crowd her, Joe," he called. "We're taking chances to-night. If we hit anybody we might as well hit hard."
"Do you think we got out without being seen?"
Lang shook his head sagely in the darkness.
"Not much of a chance," he answered after a moment. "Couldn't have had a better night, though. But it's mighty hard to slip anything over on the dago. If the fog would lift up it would be even shootin' you'd see one of Mascola's outfit trailin' us astern. We've got him nervous, I tell you."
"It's high time they were getting nervous," Gregory rejoined. "When they try to browbeat American fishermen off the high seas and coastal waters it's time somebody was getting nervous."
He was silent for a moment and Lang as usual only grunted his assent. Then Gregory went on:
"But there's something else that's making them nervous, Lang. Something they are doing around that devil-island. What kinds of laws they're breaking out there nobody knows. They may be doing anything from shooting fish to catching chicken-halibut or baby barracuda. We don't know what. But we do know they're mighty touchy on who cruises round El Diablo. When our boats get around that infernal island something always happens. You know that."
Lang's grunt was emphatic and Gregory concluded:
"That's why it's up to us to find out what it is. It's hard enough to get the fish as it is without Mascola staking out the water like he owned it and telling us to keep out."
For some time the two men leaned together against the engine-house, each keeping his own counsel, each busied with his own thoughts. Then Gregory spoke:
"If anything happens to me to-night, Lang, keep all this business to yourself until my son comes home. Tell him. No one else. We want to get to the bottom of this thing ourselves without any one else butting in to bungle the job. Do you understand?"
When Lang had gone to relieve the Mexican at the wheel Richard Gregory's thoughts turned to his son overseas. Should he have waited until his return? He wondered. It was a young man's work, such a job as this,—and yet,—no, it was better to get to the bottom of the thing to-night. His head sank lower on his breast. Perhaps he could snatch a few winks of sleep. He might need it.
The muffled rattle of the anchor-chain caused him to waken sharply, stiff with cold. The motor was silent. The launch rocked lazily. Through a rift in the fog he saw a rocky beach only a stone's throw away. They were anchored close by the shore.
"Hell-Hole," announced Lang in a whisper.
Gregory picked up his rifle.
For a moment the big fisherman by his side hesitated. Then he said: "Why not stay on the Gull, Mr. Gregory? Let Joe go ashore with me."
The answer was decisive. There were no explanations. Lang knew it was final. Assisted by the Mexican, he swung the dory free and lowered it quietly into the water. Helping Gregory into the small boat he turned to the Mexican and spoke rapidly in Spanish. Gregory could catch only the substance of a few sentences. Lang was telling Joe to stand by for a quick get-away. To watch the beach and start the anchor when he saw them coming. And above all he was to keep quiet.
The bow of the dory grated on the beach. The two men stepped out and without a backward glance slowly disappeared into the fog.
Huddled in the bow, Mexican Joe waited by the anchor-chain, his eyes searching the little cove. For a long time he sat thus, not even daring to light a cigarette. Once his straining ears caught the muffled exhaust of a motor-launch. It came very close but the fog guarded him well and he heard it pass on. What the two men were doing upon the island concerned Mexican Joe not at all. The devil-isle was filled with secrets. Why should he try to fathom them? He was paid to obey and Senor Lang had twice saved his life.
A sound from the shore caused Joe to struggle to his feet and begin hauling on the chain. Then he looked again, stopped and straightened up.
There were three men coming along the beach, four,—five.
Joe dropped behind the rail and watched them climb over the rocks and halt by the empty dory. Then he heard the sound of low voices in a foreign tongue, and shivered. The voices of the men on the beach grew fainter. They were minutely examining the dory. One lifted his arm and pointed seaward in the direction of the Sea Gull.
The Mexican crept to his sawed-off shotgun loaded with buck-shot. Securing the weapon he made his way again to the bow and waited. The rock-bound cove was silent. The dory was still on the beach. But the men were gone.
At length came the rattle of loose stones mingled with the sound of low-pitched voices. Gracious a Dios. It was Senor Lang and Senor Gregory. Joe's hand leaped to the anchor-chain. There would be need to hurry. He tugged hard at the heavy cable, then he stopped, straightened and screamed a warning.
Gregory and Lang whirled about only a few feet from the dory. From the shadowed crevices in the rocks, men leaped forward and hurled themselves to the beach. About the skiff bright jets of flame cut the fog. Came the sharp report of an automatic, twice,—three times.
Mexican Joe watched the unequal struggle, huddled against the rail. His eyes brightened with fear. Twice he raised his gun, but his hand shook. At the distance the shot would scatter. There would be no use. He saw the two men fight their way to the dory. Saw Lang reach it, shove it into the water. The Senor was safe. Gracious a Dios. But no, he was going back for Senor Gregory. Sangre de Christo, they would all be killed.
The fog thickened. The struggling forms merged, grotesquely intermingled and became indistinct. From behind the gray curtain came the sound of heavy blows, muttered imprecations, groans.
Joe waited for the veil to lift, staring with straining eyes, cursing softly. Los Senores were being murdered before his eyes and he could do nothing. Through a rift in the fog he saw Gregory with his back to the cliff fighting back the savage horde which were pressing hard upon him. He was using his rifle as a club. The men were falling away from him. Lang had cleared the way to the skiff; was almost at his companion's side.
From the overhanging ledge above, two dark figures leaped suddenly upon the man beneath, wrenching his gun from his hand, crushing him to the sand. Lang fell upon the group of struggling figures, fighting like a madman. Then he staggered, dropped to his knees and went down before the onslaught.
Again the gray pall drifted down from the tall crags above and blotted out the scene.
Joe staggered to his feet, grasping the wire-stays for support. Then he stiffened and stood listening. The muffled purr of a high-powered motor disturbed the silence. From out the gloom to starboard he saw the bow of a big motor-boat cut the fog. The Mexican shrieked a warning and tightened his clutch on the stays.
The strange craft veered, the sharp bow swung over. With wide-open engines, she struck the Sea Gull amidships, full on the beam. Hurled to the deck by the impact the Mexican heard the snapping and grinding of timbers. He was conscious of falling and the cool rush of waters about his head. Then he remembered no more.
Wrapped in a clinging mantle of filmy fog, rock-bound, grim and mysterious, the Island of El Diablo frowned at the sea from behind the veil of silence. Brave men had sought to fathom her secret but she had guarded it well.
JETSAM OF THE SEA
John Blair was worried. Every line of his face, every movement of his nervous body showed it. He turned quickly to the bare-footed fisherman who blocked the doorway.
"You combed the beach, you say? How far?"
"San Lucas to Port Angeles."
"No signs of wreckage; nothing?"
The fisherman shook his head.
Blair was silent for a moment. Then he asked: "How far out to sea did you go?"
"About three miles, 'Dog-face' Jones's workin' out San Anselmo way. Big Jack left last night for Diablo."
Blair started. "Diablo," he repeated. "They surely wouldn't have gone out there."
Before the fisherman could reply there came an interruption. The door opened quickly and a young man strode into the room.
"Mr. Gregory? Is he in?"
Blair looked up quickly at the sound of the voice and ran his eyes over the clean-cut figure in the serge uniform. The impression, hastily formed, of having met the man before, was strengthened by the roving black eyes which were expectantly traveling about the room.
"This is the Legonia Fish Cannery, isn't it?"
Blair nodded. "Yes," he said. "But Mr. Gregory is not here at present."
"When will he be in?"
The words came eagerly with the brusk assurance of an immediate answer. The crisp insistence had a decidedly familiar sound. Blair regarded the clean-cut face of the young officer intently as he answered:
"I don't know. Will you call again or leave your name?"
"I am Mr. Gregory's son."
Blair came to meet him with outstretched hands.
"I might have known it," he said. "I am Mr. Blair, your father's manager. I'm glad to meet you. Your father did not expect you so soon, did he?"
The young man shook his head and smiled.
"No," he answered. "Dad thinks I'm still on the other side. I wanted to surprise him. I wrote a letter saying I would be home as soon as possible. I mailed the letter on the ship which brought me over." A boyish look crept into his eyes. "Don't let on when dad comes back that you've seen me, will you, Mr. Blair? I have to go back to camp to-night and arrange about my discharge. It may be a week before I can be back."
The black eyes grew suddenly wistful.
"Say, Mr. Blair, don't you think there's a chance of my seeing dad before I leave? I have until five o'clock to get my train."
Blair was unable to meet the steady gaze of his employer's son. Should he tell the boy of his father's strange absence? Voice his own fears and suspicions for the safety of Gregory, Sr.? By the time the young man returned the mystery might be solved. At least they would know something.
"What is wrong, Mr. Blair?"
The question was volleyed with quiet insistence. It demanded an answer. The boy would not be put off. He was his father's son. Blair sought to put the matter in as favorable a light as possible under the circumstances. In a few words he told of the disappearance of Richard Gregory.
Kenneth Gregory listened quietly, at times interrupting with rapid-fire questions.
"When was he last seen?"
"Three days ago."
"You knew nothing of his plans?"
"Nothing definite," Blair evaded. "He might have gone out with the fishermen scouting for albacore. One of Lang's boats turned up missing the next morning. Lang himself is missing, too."
"Who is Lang?"
"Your father's fishing captain. He recently bought him a number of new boats. They might have gone to try one of them out."
"Nothing has been heard of them since?"
"Not yet. You see it has been very foggy lately all along the coast. That has handicapped our search."
"Where can I get a boat?"
Blair shook his head. Then he came closer and put his hand on Kenneth Gregory's arm.
"All of the Lang boats are out now, Captain. Everything is being done, I can assure you. It would be no use."
"Are there no other boats here than Lang's?"
"Only the alien fleet."
The man in uniform whirled about decisively.
"Then I'll get one of them. Will you show me where they are?"
"It would be no use. They wouldn't go. You see——"
With some reluctance Blair consented.
"We haven't been getting along any too well with Mascola's outfit lately," he explained as they walked along. "I'll stop at Lang's wharf first. Maybe some of the boats are back."
Turning on to a small wharf they walked in silence over the loose boards down the lane of ill-smelling fish-boxes. At the end of the dock a narrow gangway led downward to a small float which rocked lazily in the capping swells thrown up by a passing fishing-boat. Close by, another wharf jutted out into the bay. Upon it were a number of swarthy fishermen, piling nets. Blair stopped abruptly at the head of the gangway, his eyes searching the water. The fishing-boat was swinging up into the tide and edging closer.
"Is that one of the Lang boats?" he heard Gregory ask.
A paroxysm of coughing prevented Blair's immediate reply. The young officer looked eagerly at the approaching craft, upon the bow of which a dark-skinned man leaned carelessly against the wire-stays. He noticed that the man was tall and straight. Upon his head a gaudy red cap rested with a rakish air. His eyes were upon the Lang dock as he stood with folded arms and waited for the boat to nose up to the near-by wharf.
Gregory admitted to himself that there was something masterful about the red-capped stranger, at the same time, repellent. The crowd of aliens moreover, he noticed, fell away respectfully. The newcomer was evidently a personage in the community.
Gregory, watching him as he stepped from the launch, instinctively disliked him.
Blair bit the words savagely.
Gregory surveyed the newcomer with interest.
"He has a boat," he said. "Let's go over and get it."
Blair put out a restraining hand.
"There would be no use," he said. "Mascola wouldn't let us have that boat to save our lives."
Gregory was already on his way to the Italian dock. Blair started to overtake him. Then he glanced down the bay and his face brightened.
"Wait," he called. "Here comes one of Lang's boats now. Perhaps they will know something."
With the approach of the second fishing-boat came a crowd of curious fishing folk of all nationalities. Men, women and children clustered about the dock, imbued with a lust for excitement and a morbid desire to learn the worst from the latest mystery of the sea. All eyes were held by the fishing-boat as it swung about and drew near the float.
Blair shoved his way through the crowd and led Gregory down the gangway. Upon the covered hatch of the launch Blair's eye caught sight of two rolls of canvas, fashioned bundle-like. Nets most likely. He looked eagerly at the fishermen aboard the incoming craft. Their faces caused him to look again at the canvas bundles. Then he turned quickly to the man by his side.
"Why not wait on the wharf until they come up?" he asked in a low voice in which he strove to conceal his agitation.
Kenneth Gregory shook his head. He too had noticed the bundles on the hatch.
In silence the launch tied up to the fleet. In silence two bare-footed fishermen lifted one of the bundles and carrying it carefully between them, stepped out upon the gently rocking float. The salt-stiffened canvas unrolled as the men laid their burden down, exposing the body of a huge fisherman. His face was battered and bruised and Gregory noticed that his hair was red.
Blair's hand on Gregory's arm tightened.
"Good God!" he exclaimed. "It's Lang."
Kenneth Gregory looked down into the face of the big fisherman. Then he remembered the other bundle. Blair sought to deter him. But he was too late to check the onward rush of the young man across the float. Already he was boarding the boat. Blair watched him raise the flap of canvas. Saw his eyes searching the folds beneath. At length came voices. A man was speaking.
"Found them off Diablo. Went on the rocks at Hell-Hole in the fog. Boat was smashed. Bu'sted clean in two."
Gregory scarcely heard them as he knelt on the hatch looking down into the face of the one he had traveled seven thousand miles to see.
Blair led him away. As the little procession moved silently down the dock the crowd parted respectfully. Eyes that were hard, softened. Fishermen took off their hats, holding them awkwardly in their red hands. Fisherwomen looked down at the rough boards and crossed themselves devoutly.
The cortege passed on. Turning from the dock they threaded their way down the narrow street leading to the town. As they neared the alien docks, the dusky fishermen uncovered and drew together, awed by the presence of the great shadow.
Gregory's arm brushed against a man leaning carelessly against the wharf-rail. Raising his eyes from the ground, he beheld the one man of all the villagers who had remained unmoved, unsoftened by the spectacle. With his red cap shoved back upon his shining black hair the insolent stranger stood looking on with folded arms. Gregory noticed that Mascola had not even taken the trouble to remove the cigarette which hung damply from his lips.
For an instant the two men looked deep into each other's eyes. Then the procession passed on.
The death of his father hurled Kenneth Gregory into a new world—a world of unfamiliar faces, of strange standards of value, of vastly different problems—the world of business.
Kenneth Gregory had taken this world as he found it. There had been no time to moralize upon the situation into which the spinning of the wheel had plunged him. There was work to do.
Securing his discharge from the army he had turned to the task of settling up his father's estate. The fact that he was the sole heir and legal executor simplified matters. But there were complications. These he had unraveled with the aid of Farnsworth, the attorney for the estate. Then he had come to Legonia and found plenty to do.
Blair, the former manager of the Legonia Fish Cannery, had suffered an attack of pneumonia and was ill at a neighboring sanitarium. From him he could therefore learn nothing. The books of the company told him but little more. Now he was going over the private papers in his father's office.
"Are you the boss?"
Kenneth Gregory turned from his perusal of a file of letters and faced a young man standing in the doorway. Gregory nodded.
"I'm the owner," he replied pleasantly, noting the well-worn, much-patched service uniform of the stranger. "And for the time being, boss. My manager is sick. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes. You can give me a job."
Gregory smiled at the frankness of the answer.
"I might at that," he said. "Can you speak Russian or Italian?"
The ex-soldier shook his head as Gregory went on:
"What I need more than anything else just now is an interpreter. I have a lot of foreigners working outside cleaning up. I've been having to make signs to them all morning."
The soldier's brow wrinkled.
"That's what they told me of this place in Centerville," he said. "They said I was only wasting shoe-leather to come down here. That it was no place for an American."
"Maybe they're right," Gregory cut in. Then he added: "However, we may be able to change things. What can you do?"
The youth's face assumed a more cheerful expression. "I'm a mechanic by trade," he answered. "I'll do anything right now."
"Know anything about marine motors?"
"Two or four cycle?"
Gregory pondered. 'Twas best to be on the safe side. "Both," he answered.
The soldier shook his head. "You'll have to count me out on the two cycles," he said. "Those little peanut-roasters and coffee-grinders are new to me. Never had any experience with anything much but Unions and Standards. That's what most of the fishermen have in their boats."
Gregory's face cleared.
"I may be able to take you on. I have a lot of motors which will need looking after before long. In the meantime if you want to go to work cleaning up the house, you can start any time you're ready. What do you say?"
"I'll say you've hired a man. My name's Barnes."
Gregory extended his hand. "And mine is Gregory. When do you want to go to work?"
Together the two men went out into the fish-laden atmosphere of the cannery. Walking down the aisles, flanked on both sides by huge vats and silent conveyers, they came upon a number of dark-skinned laborers whiling away the time with a scant pretense of work. Stung into a semblance of action by the sudden appearance of the boss, the men abruptly postponed their conversation and tardily plied their scrubbing brooms, meanwhile eying the newcomer with frank disapproval.
Leaving Barnes with the injunction to keep an eye on the men and, if possible, induce them to speed up, Gregory returned to his work. Passing through the outer office where he had met Mr. Blair upon the day of his arrival from overseas, he entered the little room which Richard Gregory had used for a private office. Opening a small safe which stood in a corner, he resumed his examination of his father's papers.
In a vague sort of way he regarded his legacy of the Legonia Fish Cannery as a trust. In the atmosphere of this room this feeling was always enhanced, the trust more sacred. Here Richard Gregory had worked, planned, worried. Every detail of the room spoke eloquently from father to son. Here was begun an unfinished work. Richard Gregory had believed in it; had given his life to it.
Farnsworth had said that the business had never paid. That his client had purchased it directly against his advice and had continued to throw good money after bad ever since. The lawyer advised selling at the first good opportunity.
Kenneth Gregory absolutely refused to believe that his father had failed. The business had not prospered. That was true. But doubtless there were good and sufficient reasons. He continued his examination of the contents of the safe, methodically going through the various compartments and making notes concerning the papers found therein. At length he came to a memorandum which held his attention. It was the agreement his father had made with Lang to purchase ten fully-equipped fishing-boats for the fisherman.
Gregory studied the penciled notes. His father had reposed untold confidence in Lang's integrity. So much was shown by the loose phraseology of the document and the extreme latitude given the fisherman in compliance with its terms. That this confidence had evidently not been misplaced, was evidenced by the promptness with which Lang met the payments as they fell due.
Farnsworth, Gregory remembered, had regarded the chattel mortgage on Lang's boats and equipment as a most doubtful asset. If Lang had left a son the old lawyer had maintained, who would be competent to go on with his father's work, the situation would have appeared in a more favorable light.
But Lang had left no son. Only a daughter. And, to quote the reputable Farnsworth, what chance would any man stand of getting anything out of a woman on a loosely drawn contract like that? Figure it profit and loss, my boy, he had concluded bruskly.
Like Farnsworth, Gregory too wished that Lang had left a son. It would be easier dealing with a man, competent or incompetent, than a woman. Well, he would say nothing to the girl for the time being at least. She had had enough to bear in the loss of her father. That much he could swear to. When she had defaulted the next payment he would make her a proposition to buy her boats. Fishing was no business for a girl anyway.
He glanced at the schedule of dates arranged by Lang and his father for making the payments and turned to the calendar. One of them was already past due. Five hundred dollars should have been paid the week before.
So intent was Gregory upon his study of the contract that he failed to hear the opening of the outer office door. His first intimation of the presence of a visitor came with a sharp knock upon his half-open door.
"Come in," he called.
A wind-bronzed fisherman stood upon the threshold, dangling a red cap in his hand. He bowed gracefully and smiled.
"You are Mr. Gregory?"
Gregory nodded, trying to remember where he had seen the man before. Suddenly he remembered. It was on the day his father's body had been brought in. Near the alien wharf a man had jostled against him. A man with a bright red cap, smoking a cigarette.
"I am Mascola."
The visitor spoke the words slowly as if anxious that none of the importance of the introduction might be lost or passed over lightly.
Gregory looked Mascola over carefully. The man's carelessness and seeming irreverence on that never-to-be-forgotten day might not have been intentional. He must not allow his prejudice to interfere with his judgment. That was not business. He resolved to hear what the man had to say.
"What do you want?" he asked bluntly.
Mascola walked unbidden to a chair and seated himself before replying: "You will want fish before long, Mr. Gregory. I would like to contract for my men to get them for you."
Gregory was nettled by Mascola's calm assurance. He had a mind to send him packing. Blair, he remembered, had evidently had but little use for the Italian. But Blair too might have been prejudiced. It was business perhaps to hear the man's proposal.
"What is your proposition?" he asked, hoping Mascola would be brief.
In this he was not disappointed. Mascola plunged his hand into the pocket of his vest and drew forth a paper which he placed in Gregory's hand.
Gregory ran his eye hastily over the typewritten sheet which contained the memorandum of four numbered clauses. They were briefly worded and to the point:
1. The fishermen to furnish albacore, tuna and sardines at the same price paid by the Golden Rule Cannery.
2. The cannery to assume complete liability for all boats and equipment used by the fishermen in providing fish for it.
3. The cannery to agree to pay all fines, state and federal, for any violation of fishing or navigation laws.
4. The cannery to agree, under bonds, to hire no men who are not members of the fishermen's union.
Gregory looked up to meet Mascola's dark eyes regarding him intently.
"That is all," said the Italian boss.
"It's enough," commented Gregory tersely, striving to hold his temper in check at the impudence of Mascola's proposal. Any one of the four clauses he realized would be amply sufficient to throw him into bankruptcy. The first would place him in the hands of his local competitor, a Slavonian. The last would deliver all that was left to the fisherman's union, also foreigners. By the second clause his property would be placed in jeopardy to protect the carelessness or incompetence of others, aliens all. And the third, Gregory did not clearly understand. To satisfy his curiosity he asked:
"What do you mean by the cannery agreeing to pay the fines?"
Mascola smiled pityingly, exposing a fine set of even teeth.
"You are a stranger here. I forgot. So you do not know that it is necessary for fishermen to break the law sometimes to get fish. The canneries must have them. They ask no questions. If we can get them without breaking the laws it is so much the better. But sometimes when you have steam up you want fish very bad. Then you say, Mascola, I must have fish. Well, I get them for you. There are always fish to be caught in some way or other. They are worth a good deal to you at such a time. Why should you not pay for the extra risk we run in getting them?"
It was Gregory's turn to smile.
"Rather ingenious," he commented. "Do you find it necessary to go to such extremes often?"
Mascola sensed the sarcasm. A faint flush crept to his dark cheeks. He began to suspect that the young man was not taking either him or his proposition seriously. Perhaps he had said too much. He answered the question with one word.
Gregory studied Mascola's face and his smile faded. His irritation at the Italian's entrance had at first given place to amusement at the absurdity of the man's proposal. Now came again the feeling of dislike which had assailed him on the occasion of his first meeting with Mascola.
"Mascola," he said, "I'll keep your proposition in mind. That is just about all I ever will do with it, I guess, though I'll talk it over with Blair."
The Italian frowned at the mention of Blair. He had supposed Blair to be gone. Had not Rossi reported the departure of the former manager more than a month ago? Blair would be a stumbling-block to his scheme. Blair knew too much. Mascola realized that he had been too confident. He felt, moreover, that he had made a fool of himself. Had not the young man smiled? His anger mounted at the recollection. He rose quickly, fighting it down.
"All right, Mr. Gregory," he said smoothly. "I make my proposition. I come to you this time. You do not accept. It is all right. Next time you come to me."
Bowing slightly and smiling to hide his anger, he went out.
Gregory turned again to his work, but found it hard to keep his mind from the Italian's veiled threat. It angered him. Mascola had appeared so sure of his ground. His irritation grew as his eye fell again on the Lang contract. If he only had some one with whom he could talk. Some one who knew something about fishing or running a cannery. Some one who would understand what he was up against. His father evidently had few if any confidants. If he had only left some written word.
From the cannery came the sound of excited voices, a jargon of unintelligible words. Gregory sprang to his feet and hurried out. He met Mascola coming to meet him. Behind him trooped the alien laborers.
The Italian stopped abruptly and threw out his arm with a dramatic gesture. Pointing in the direction of the solitary soldier who stood staring with open mouth, he said: "My men, they do not work with scabs, Mr. Gregory. You let that man go, or they quit."
"Let them quit."
Gregory spoke quickly and tried to smile. Losing his temper would not help matters. That wasn't business.
Mascola spoke rapidly to the men in their own tongue, waving his arms and rolling his eyes. Gregory noticed that every one seemed to be getting excited. With scowling faces, the alien laborers grouped themselves about their leader and glared at the offending soldier and his boss.
Gregory checked a quick impulse forcibly to show Mascola the door. It was the right of every man to refuse to work if the job was not to his liking. There was, however, nothing to get excited over. He turned to Mascola.
"Tell your men to come into the office and get their money," he said.
His quiet manner disappointed the Italian boss. He had hoped for a scene. An argument at least. His men expected more of him than this. Gregory had calmly turned his back upon him and was walking away. Mascola could stand no more.
"All right, Gregory," he called. "You go ahead and hire a scab crew. Then you'll find out you're the same damn fool as your father."
Gregory whirled. Mascola's hand leaped to his side, burying itself in the folds of his shirt. Before he could bring it out, Kenneth Gregory was upon him.
His fist caught Mascola full on the chin. The Italian's head snapped backward. His feet shot forward. He clutched at the air for support and strove to regain his balance. Then he fell to the floor, rolled over like a cat, and rebounded to his feet, snarling.
Gregory heard a warning cry from Barnes: "Look out! He's got a knife."
Barnes looked vainly about for a weapon as he ran to his employer's assistance.
The laborers pressed closer, their brown hands fingering their belts, their faces dark with passion. Hemmed in on every side by the scowling aliens, Gregory took a step forward and stood waiting.
Mascola advanced warily with peculiar sideling steps. His face was a mottled gray save in one place where his chin was flecked with blood. His left arm was extended guard-wise. His right was crooked loosely to his side, fingers covered. He crouched low and gathered.
Gregory measured the distance which separated him from the advancing Italian. Faintly to his ears came the sound of creaking boards behind him. Perhaps Mascola's men were pressing in from the rear. He dared not look to see. His eyes were held by Mascola's crooked arm. That was what he must grab and break.
Mascola's dark eyes, shining with anger, flashed over Gregory's shoulder to the door beyond. Then they widened with surprise. He stopped suddenly. His extended arm drooped. For an instant he stood hesitating, wavering. He took a step backward. His crooked arm unbent, dropped slowly to his side.
His eyes were held by the open door.
THE WORK OF THEIR FATHERS
"Drop it, Mascola."
The sharp command drew the eyes of the laborers to the door and they stopped fingering their knives. Shuffling closer together they looked to their leader for guidance.
Mascola's eyes darted about the floor, coming to rest upon a big vat only a few feet away. For an instant he hesitated. A faint metallic click from the doorway caused him to make up his mind. His body straightened as his hands traveled upward to the level of his shoulders. The palm of his right hand opened and a thin two-edged blade rattled to the floor.
Gregory took a step forward and shoved the knife away with his foot. Keeping one eye fixed warily upon Mascola, he shot a glance over his shoulder to determine the author of the interruption.
He turned to see a trim little figure in loosely-fitting outing clothes striding across the floor. Facing the light which streamed in from the open door, he could not distinguish the newcomer's face. He only noted the ease of the stranger's movements, the poise of the uptilted head and the nervous manner with which the Italians fell away before the advancing figure.
"What's the trouble?"
Gregory stared. It was a girl. She had turned into the light and was facing him. As he formed an answer to her question he saw that her sun-bronzed cheeks were flushed with red and her clear brown eyes were looking into his inquiringly. In her hand she held an automatic revolver.
Gregory strove to make his explanation brief.
"These men refused to work. I told them to go. Mascola and I had some trouble. He drew his knife. Then you came."
The girl nodded, dislodging a lock of red-gold hair from under her knitted cap. Turning quickly to Mascola, she commanded: "Get out."
Mascola made no sign that he intended to comply with the order. With folded arms he looked insolently at the speaker.
"When my men are paid, I will go. But first, I must have my knife."
His eyes roved longingly in the direction of the dagger.
The girl took a quick step backward and covered Mascola's waist-line with the automatic.
"You'll go now," she said. Turning to Gregory she added: "Tell him you'll pay him down-town."
Gregory picked up the Italian's knife before replying:
"I'll be at the bank at two," he said, making no move to comply with Mascola's request for his weapon.
Mascola clenched his hands. His face grew red with passion. For an instant he glared from Gregory to the girl. Then the color faded. Turning to his men he spoke rapidly to them in their own tongue. The workmen retired sullenly and picking up their coats followed their leader to the door. Mascola hesitated for a moment on the threshold. Then, checking the angry threat which rose to his lips, he went out.
Gregory watched him go in silence. Then he turned to the girl.
"My name is Gregory," he said. "You happened along just about right for me."
The tense lines about the girl's mouth disappeared slowly as she passed a small brown hand across her forehead and replaced a truant lock.
"I am Dickie Lang," she announced simply. Shoving the automatic into her coat pocket, she extended her hand. "I knew your father well. I am glad to meet you."
The frankness of the words was strengthened by the look of sincerity in the brown eyes as she stood calmly looking him over.
Gregory curbed his surprise with an effort which left him staring at the girl in awkward silence. When he had thought of Lang's daughter at all, it had been only in the most abstract way. He had regarded her only a possible and very probable source of trouble, scarcely as a flesh and blood woman at all. Never a girl like this.
He wakened to the fact that he was a very stupid host. Barnes, after staring at Dickie Lang for a moment, had retired to his work, leaving Gregory alone with his guest in the middle of the receiving floor.
"Won't you come into the office?"
The words came hesitatingly. He nodded in the direction of the screen-door.
"Yes. I would like to talk with you."
Again the direct straightforward manner of speaking. Dickie Lang started at once for the office, walking across the floor with quick impatient steps. Gregory held the door open and as the girl brushed by him, he saw her flash a glance to the door of his father's office beyond. He led the way in silence to the room where he had been working and waited for his visitor to be seated.
Dickie Lang's eyes roved swiftly about the room, taking in the familiar details. Nothing had been changed. She could see her father leaning against the desk, his great shoulders hunched forward, his big hands nervously toying with the glass paper-weight, his blue eyes fixed upon the silent figure in the swivel-chair. Again she could hear the voice of Richard Gregory:
"All right, Bill. I'll see you through. Go ahead and get the boats."
Dickie realized with a start that the square-jawed, black-eyed young man before her was Richard Gregory's son. The past faded away. With simple directness she plunged into the object of her visit.
"I've brought the money due on the boats. Got into a squabble with the markets and they tied me up for a few days. Otherwise I would have been here sooner."
Thrusting her hand into her pocket, she drew out a roll of bills and began to count them.
Gregory watched her as she thumbed the bank-notes. The dark brown corduroy was simply, if mannishly cut, and in a way it became her. Her small feet and rounded ankles would have appeared to better advantage in high-heeled shoes and silk stockings than those blunt-nosed boots and canvas leggings. And why in the name of common sense would any woman with hair like that want to keep it tucked away under a close-fitting cap? She would have been beautiful in—— He roused himself from his examination of the girl's attire and strove to fix his mind on the object of her visit. He reached for the receipt-book as she finished counting the money.
"Tenth payment," she exclaimed. "Five hundred. Makes twelve thousand even. That right?"
Gregory ran over the money, consulting his notebook to verify the figures.
"Right," he answered.
While he wrote the receipt she studied him. So this was the man whom Richard Gregory had designated as a red-blooded American. The father's praise of his absent son, she was forced to admit, had slightly prejudiced her against the young man. No single individual could possess all the sterling traits of character attributed to him by the late cannery owner. That was impossible. He would fall down somewhere.
Gregory handed the girl her receipt.
"And now," he began, somewhat uncertain as to just how to proceed, "what do you intend to do about the boats?"
Dickie Lang paused in the act of folding the paper and looked up quickly. For some reason she felt herself irritated by the question. Her irritation crept into her voice as she answered:
"I'm going to run them, of course."
Gregory straightened in his chair and faced about.
"You're going to run them?" he repeated. "You don't mean yourself?"
"Sure. What else would I do with them?" she asked coldly.
The man was caught for the moment unawares by the suddenness of the question.
"I thought perhaps you would want to sell them," he answered bluntly.
"Why?" Her voice had a belligerent ring and he noticed that her eyes were snapping. As he did not immediately reply, she flashed: "I know why. It's because I'm a woman. You think I can't make good. Isn't that it?"
Gregory felt his cheeks burn at the feeling she threw into her words. He hadn't meant to make it quite so plain but if she insisted on the truth, why not? Perhaps it was the best way.
"You've guessed it," he answered slowly. "You may call it prejudice if you like, but that is just the way I feel."
Tapping the floor angrily with her foot, she interrupted:
"It's worse than prejudice. It's just plain damn-foolishness. Honestly, after all I've heard of you, I gave you credit for having more sense. Your father wouldn't have said that. He believed there wasn't a thing in the world a man or woman couldn't do, if they tried hard enough. And he gave them the chance to make good. But I'll tell you right now, you've got a lot to learn before you'll be able to wear his hat."
Gregory sank deeper into his chair as Dickie Lang proceeded with his arraignment. Nothing could be said until she was through. His silence gave the girl a free rein to express her feelings.
"You think I don't know my game because I'm a woman. Why, I've been on the sea since I was a kid. If my father hadn't made me go to school, I would have lived with him on the water. And don't you suppose in fishing with a man like Bill Lang, a person learns something? Doesn't that more than make up for the handicap of being a woman?"
The young man waited for a chance to put in a word but none came. Becoming angrier each minute, she hurried on:
"There isn't a man in Legonia but you who would have said that. Not even Mascola. He hates me only because I do know my business. And you, a stranger, come down here and tell me——"
"I didn't say you didn't know your business," Gregory interjected as she drew a long breath.
"No, but you thought it just the same. And what right have you to think things like that? What do you know about things here? You never saw the place until just a few weeks ago. And you've been gone ever since. I'll bet you were never in a fish cannery before in your life. I'll bet right now you don't know what you're going to do next. You're waiting for Blair to get well and tell you. Suppose he doesn't. He's a mighty sick man and it's a cinch if he does come back it won't be for a long time. What are you going to do in the meantime besides tell me I don't——"
Gregory held up his hand to check a further outburst.
"Listen," he said. "There is no use going on like this. Our fathers were the best of friends. Why can't we be the same? I'm willing to admit there is a lot of truth in what you say about my not knowing just what I'm going to do right now. I didn't select the position I'm in, but I'm going to make the best of things as they are and finish up the work which was begun by my father. And I want to say right now that I'm going to finish it.
"In a way," he went on slowly, "our positions are somewhat similar. We each have a job to finish. I didn't think yours meant as much to you as mine does to me, though of course I might have, if I hadn't been thinking so much of myself. Our fathers worked together and got along fine. It may be that we can do the same thing."
The fire died slowly from the girl's eyes. In its place there came an expression, more wistful perhaps than anything else. When she spoke again the irritation was gone from her voice.
"No," she answered. "There isn't any reason why we can't be friends. And there are a lot of reasons why we should be. I'm willing to do my part and I'll show you, Mr. Gregory, that I do know my business. It always makes me mad when any one thinks I don't know the sea. When dad wanted to tease me he always called me a 'land-lubber.' And even when a kid I would always fight at that."
She paused a moment. Then went on:
"I'd like to do what I can for you for two reasons. Your father did a lot for mine. He was one of my few friends. I'd like to give his son a hand if it would help. In the second place, it is to my interest in a business way to see your cannery succeed. It is a market for my fish. I won't sell to the Golden Rule and the dealers won't pay the express on canning fish. The sooner you start up the better it will be for me. I can tell you right now you have a lot to do."
Again she paused and looked down at her feet. When she spoke again it was with some hesitation.
"If I were you I'd get hold of Jack McCoy. He can do more for you than any one else. I wouldn't count too much on Blair. I heard from him this morning and they didn't hold out much hope. He's completely run down and that's the kind pneumonia hits hard."
"I know," he said. Then he asked: "McCoy was the foreman, wasn't he?"
"Yes. He's still in town. Blair gave him a letter of recommendation but Jack won't look for another job until he knows what Blair is going to do. He says Blair taught him all he knows and he's going to stick to him because he always treated him white."
Gregory wrote McCoy's address which the girl supplied and she continued:
"One of the first things to be done, of course, will be to go all over the machinery. That won't take long. Then the supplies and material will have to be checked over and the new stuff ordered. That will take a week for two men."
Gregory looked at the girl with more respect. Apparently she knew something of his business as well as her own. Doubtless her association with her father had brought her into close touch with the cannery. As she went on, Dickie Lang divulged the source of her information.
"Jack and I have talked you over a lot," she said soberly. "We are both anxious to see you get going."
While she talked on concerning the re-opening of the cannery, Gregory wondered to what extent her opinion of McCoy's ability was based by personal prejudice. Of course it was nothing to him what Dickie Lang thought of McCoy or of himself either, for that matter. He decided to look McCoy up at once.
"Then you have to get your labor," she went on. "And that isn't as easy, I have found, as it seems. You see Mascola has the bulge on the labor situation around here. He has the riff-raff of the world on his pay-roll. They speak in a dozen different languages. Everything almost—but English. They are practically all aliens and there is nothing they won't do to keep a decent man out. Blair had hard work to get a crew, I know, and harder work to keep it. He was always hiring and firing. Things would go all right for a while. Then there would come a row with Mascola's outfit and a lot of the boys would get disgusted and leave."
"I understand from my father's attorney, that one of the biggest things he had to contend with was the matter of getting fish."
"I'm coming to that in a minute. Let's finish up the labor question while we're on it. You've got to get a certain number of skilled men who can handle the machines. With a few others who have worked in a fish cannery you can go ahead, for the biggest percentage of your labor is unskilled anyway and has to be broken in. Men like that are the hardest to get," she concluded, "they are mostly tramps. Here to-day and gone to-morrow. You can't depend on them. If you can get a bunch to stick, you're mighty lucky."
She paused and moved her chair nearer. Then she broached the important subject.
"About the fish, you can do one of three things. Or rather two things," she corrected, "for I hardly think you'll tie up with Mascola. You can fix up your own boats, try to man them and get your own fish. You have twenty-five boats. That's not enough even if they were all in good shape, which they're not."
"What do you mean by trying to man my boats?"
The girl smiled.
"Just what I say," she answered. "Fishermen are scarce. My father was in business here for twenty years and most of the time he was running short-handed. You can get plenty of men to ride on your boats but they are not fishermen."
Noting the direction in which the conversation was drifting, Gregory resolved to hasten the climax.
"Do you think you could furnish me with enough fish?" he asked bluntly.
"I don't think anything about it. I know I could."
"How do you know it?"
She hesitated as she cast about in her active brain for a tangible argument to convince the obstinate, square-jawed man before her. Of course she could get him the fish. But how could she make him believe it?
"My fishermen know the coast for one thing," she began. "That's a whole lot around here. It's a treacherous shore-line and a man who doesn't know it can lose a boat mighty easy. Then, I have ten new boats, just the kind you have to have for albacore and tuna. As a general rule you've got to go way out to sea to get them. Sometimes as far as Diablo. And that means trouble. If you've ever been out to that God-forsaken island you'll understand that it takes real men and boats. I have both."
Gregory said nothing, but waited for the girl to finish:
"I know my game," she concluded, with no spirit of bravado, but merely as if it was only a plain statement of fact. "My men are used to holding their own against Mascola. And I can tell you that is worth a lot."
Gregory nodded. Then he said quietly:
"Your father was never able to supply mine with enough fish to keep this cannery going. Isn't that right?"
Dickie Lang was forced to admit the truth of the statement. Then she qualified: "He hadn't had the big boats but a few months and they had a run of bad luck from the start."
Gregory considered her words carefully.
"Would you be willing to enter into a contract with me to keep the cannery supplied with fish?" he asked, watching her closely. For the first time he saw her show signs of receding from her original position.
Dickie Lang hesitated. Her fear of legal entanglements was hereditary. Bill Lang had settled his differences out of court and had warned his daughter on more than one occasion of the dangers which lurked in a contract. She shook her head. What did she know of this man, save the fact that he bore his father's name?
"No," she answered, feeling, however, that she had weakened her previous statement by refusing to make it legally binding.
The girl realized that their positions were becoming reversed. It was she now who was on the defensive.
"Because," she answered slowly, "I wouldn't." Ashamed that she had given the proverbial reason for feminine change of mind, she added quickly: "You see you may be all right. And then again you may not. I'd like a chance to size you up first."
Gregory smiled. "That was what I thought about you at the beginning of our talk," he said. His face became instantly serious. "We'll just have to size each other up before we can actually get down to cases. Isn't that the truth?"
She nodded. "Yes. You think I can't make good."
"And you just don't know about me," Gregory finished for her. Then he added: "How are we going to find out about each other?"
Dickie regarded him gravely.
"The ocean is the best test for a man or a woman that I know. It doesn't play any favorites. When a girl goes out there all 'dolled-up' it washes off the paint and powder and shows her up for just what she is. And it shows a man up too. It's always waiting for him to make some mistake. When he does, he has to think and act at the same time. He can't hedge or make excuses. He's got to pay or play. A quitter has no chance with the sea."
Observing him closely, she concluded: "I could tell more about you on the sea in a minute than I could find out in here in a month."
"And I could find out whether or not I thought you knew your business."
They laughed together.
"I'll be ready any time."
Dickie was on her feet at his words.
"To-morrow morning then, at four o'clock. Meet me at our dock and I'll show you I know what I'm talking about."
Gregory promised and the girl hurried out.
For some time the young cannery owner scratched busily at the pad of paper before him, jotting down the substance of his interview with Dickie Lang. Passing through the cannery he came upon the solitary remnant of his floor force whom he had forgotten for the time being.
"I'm going down-town for a few minutes, Barnes. If anybody asks for me, tell them I'll be back in half an hour."
The ex-soldier's eyes brightened at the sight of his employer.
"Say, Mr. Gregory, you took me on quick and stayed by me, and I don't want you to think I don't appreciate it, for I do. Now that you've canned the other gang, I wonder if there'd be any chance for a couple of my pals. We've been drifting around together and their shoes is worn out same as mine."
"What can they do?"
"One of them's a chauffeur. He ain't afraid of nothin'. And he can drive anything on wheels. The other one's a steam-fitter by trade, but he'll be glad to nurse a broom or anything else right now."
Gregory was on the point of telling Barnes to wait until he had conferred with McCoy when he noticed the peculiar manner with which his employee held his broom.
"What's the matter with your arm?" he asked quietly.
Barnes tapped the member in question and regarded him somewhat doubtfully.
"Nothin'," he said.
Gregory stepped nearer and examined the shoulder carefully.
"Why didn't you tell me your arm had been hurt?" he asked in a low voice.
Barnes met his eyes squarely.
"Because I was afraid it would queer me for a job," he said. "You see, Gregory, when a man hires a fellow he figures he's all there. He kind of rents him all over and when he's shy on somethin', he kind of figures the fellow's holding back on him. I didn't want to slip anything over on you. Because you were white to me from the start. But I was afraid when you saw my pin was faked you might change your mind."
Gregory's eyes were fixed intently on the soldier as he went on:
"You see I got my insurance. But that ain't enough. My old man died while I was away. And my mother ain't any too well. So I just lets her have the money. But that ain't all there is to it. You see when a fellow's worked and hit the ball, he don't want to lay round and loaf."
Still Gregory said nothing, and Barnes, misconstruing his silence, continued:
"It's wonderful what a fellow can do with what the doctors leave him when they get through cuttin'. You ought to go up to Port Angeles and see what the Bureau's teaching the poor blind devils. It kind of seems like their eyes goes into their arms and legs, for they can do more with them now than they ever thought of doing before they lost their lamps."
He extended his good arm and flexed the muscles until they stood out like lumps of whip-cord. "Look at that," he exclaimed. "They's twice the pep in that one since they hacked up the other one. You don't need to be afraid of me not doing a day's work. I——"
"Are there many of the boys out of work?" Gregory found his voice at last.
"Scads of 'em. Some of them went back to their old jobs. Some of them found 'em gone and they was others that couldn't cut it like they used to. The government's tryin' to land 'em all jobs. But it's slow."
Gregory turned slowly about and retraced his steps in the direction of the office. Then he remembered Barnes's request.
"You can tell your friends to come along," he said.
Barnes ran after him.
"Say," he exclaimed, "I forgot to tell you. One of 'em's leg's a little stiff and the other one's shy an eye."
Gregory whirled about.
"They've got brains and hearts left, haven't they?" he challenged. "Tell them to come along."
Walking rapidly to the office he entered and closed the door. When Barnes came in at quitting time the room was thick with smoke. In the center of the smoke-screen Gregory sat at a small table, hammering away at a typewriter. On a near-by chair, the ex-soldier caught a glimpse of a colored poster, glaringly captioned:
JOBS FOR SOLDIERS
Shutting the door softly behind him he withdrew, smiling to himself.
THE WAY OF THE GULL
The alarm-clock announced the hour imperiously, triumphantly, the importance of the day being manifest in its resonant warning.
Kenneth Gregory leaped from his bed and hastily donned a brand-new suit of overalls. A young man's first business engagement was not lightly to be passed over. Particularly when it promised a chance for excitement and new adventure. He dressed quickly and hurried out into the street. With difficulty he stumbled through the dark streets and groped his way along the water-front to the Lang wharf. All about him was darkness, opaque and impenetrable.
Gregory found himself blinking into the white light of an electric torch. By his side stood Dickie Lang.
"Yes," he answered. "Wasn't sure whether my clock was right so I set it half an hour ahead."
Still holding him in the rays of the light, the girl examined him critically.
"All right but your shoes," she announced. "You'll break your neck in those leather soles. I'll see if I can rustle a pair of tennis-shoes."
She vanished suddenly and a moment later he saw her light fall upon the burly figures of three bare-footed fishermen shuffling along the dock. She greeted the men familiarly.
"Got that coil for you, Tom. Cache it this time where those thieving devils won't beat you to it. Coils are hard to get right now. Bill, you'd better run down Lucas way and scout around for barracuda. They were beginning to hit in there strong this time last year. How's the baby? I phoned to town last night for that medicine I told you about. They said they'd shoot it out on the first mail."
As she spoke Gregory saw other shadows draw near and hover for a moment in the circle of light. From the hillside above the town lights gleamed from the windows of the fishing colony, the intervening spaces of darkness narrowing second by second until the village stood out like a great checker-board of lights and shadows. Against the background of lights he could see the slender figure of the girl passing among the huge fishermen who towered like giants above her. Radiating energy wherever she went, criticizing some, commending others and joking away the early-morning grouch, she directed the movements of the constantly increasing stream of men who thronged the dock and despatched the boats one by one into the darkness.
When she returned to Gregory's side for a moment she held in her hand a tattered pair of rubber-soled shoes. "They're better than nothing," she explained. "When you are a full-fledged fisherman you won't need shoes. You'll get so you can use your toes like fingers and——"
The rays of her flash-light, which swept the wharf as she spoke, suddenly brought into view the figure of a man lunging unsteadily along the dock. Leaving her sentence unfinished, she was by his side in an instant.
"Nothing doing, Jack. Go home and go to bed. I know all about your wife's sick aunt. No time to listen now. If you're sober by afternoon you can go out with the boys drifting."
The fisherman started to expostulate but she had already left him. Mumbling that she didn't know what sickness was, he stumbled obediently away in the direction of the shore.
"He's been drunk since Tuesday," she announced as she rejoined Gregory. "Too bad, too. Best man I've got in shallow water. You ought to see him handle a dory in the surf."
Again the light picked out a newcomer who stood hesitating a few feet away. "What's the trouble, Pete? Why aren't you on the job?"
"I've got to have more money." The words were spoken boldly and in a tone which drew the attention of all about. A number of fishermen shuffled nearer the speaker and ranged themselves beyond the circle of light within easy hearing distance.
"You want more money," Dickie Lang repeated slowly. "Well about the only reason I could ever think of for paying you any more would be for your nerve in asking for it. Why, I've lost more through your carelessness since you've been on the job than I could make on you in six months. The first shot out of the box you let a piece of barracuda-webbing go adrift and Mascola's gang picked it up right before your eyes and you never cheeped. Then you put one of my motors on the blink because you were too lazy to watch the oil-feed. Where do you think I get off? How long could I run this outfit if all my men were like you? Take a brace and come alive, Pete. That's the way to get more money out of me or any one else. The harder you hit the ball the more you'll get. I don't want to hog it all. The boys will tell you I shoot square."
The fisherman slunk sullenly away and joined his companions. Dickie Lang turned again to Gregory.
"That's one of the things I'm up against," she exclaimed in a low voice. "That fellow is a regular agitator. Talking is his long suit. Why, he didn't even know how to throw a bowline when he hit in here, flat broke and down on his uppers. I've taught him all he knows. And now he's trying to start something. If men weren't so scarce I'd can him in a minute."
Gregory watched the fleet embark, marveling at the manner in which the burly fishermen took orders from a mere slip of a girl. How it must go against their grain, he thought, to be bossed about by a woman. The last of the boats had cleared before the youthful commodore prepared to follow.
"Let's go," she exclaimed impatiently. "We're late now. Mascola's outfit cleared two hours ago."
Leading the way she took Gregory aboard a small fishing vessel which waited at the float below. The motor started the instant their feet touched the deck and a gruff voice growled:
"We've got to go some to make the point by daybreak."
The girl nodded to the dark form at the wheel.
"You said it, Tom. Mascola's gang are mighty near down there by now."
She cast off the lines and jumped again to the boat as the little craft backed from the slip and headed down the bay. While the boat gained headway under the rapid pulse of the powerful motor, she explained:
"Got a string of nets off Long Point. Just put them out yesterday. But I've a pretty good idea we'll load up. That is unless Mascola tries to sew us up. One of his fishing captains was cruising round last night when I left the set."
"But if you had your nets out first," Gregory began.
A low laugh from the girl interrupted him. "You don't know how Mascola does business," she said. "Listen, I'll tell you. Did you ever notice them throw garbage overboard from the deck of a steamer and see one lone gull flying in her wake? The minute he squawks and swoops down to pick it up there's a hundred of them come from all points of the compass to fight it out with him for the spoils. Well, Mascola's men are just like that. We may spot the fish first. We generally do. But that doesn't make the slightest bit of difference to Mascola. It only saves him the trouble. When our nets are out and he sees we're getting a good haul, he lays around us and cuts us off. Do you get the idea?"
Gregory nodded vaguely.
"But can't you do something?" he asked. "I should think——"
Again the girl laughed. "You bet I can do something," she snapped. "You just watch me. That's what I brought you out here for this morning. If those devils try to lay around me, I'll show them a thing or two. I wish we had an earlier start though," she concluded. "They've got the best of it by a couple of hours."
Through the darkness they raced to the open sea. The cool morning breeze blew briskly in their faces and Gregory noticed they were overhauling a few of the stragglers.
"It oughtn't to take you long to catch up with them at this clip," he said admiringly. "Are all of your boats as fast as this one?"
"If they were it would break me up," the girl answered. "The Petrel's my flag ship. She's a gas-hog, but she can travel. She has fifty horse, and built on the lines she is, there aren't many of them around here that can make her run in their wake. Only two in fact," she added. "Mascola's speed-boat and Rossi's fleet-tender."
"Who is Rossi?"
"Mascola's fishing captain. Next to his boss and old Rock, one of the biggest crooks in town. He knows his business though," she supplemented half-admiringly, "and is a good man for Mascola."
"Who's Rock?" asked Gregory.
The girl faced about suddenly.
"Rock's the big man of a little town. He's in everything. The further you go without meeting with him the better off you'll be. He's president of the bank, the Rock Commercial Company and several other concerns. He owns the controlling interest in the Golden Rule Cannery besides. He has a finger in everything. He's a mighty busy man. But he's never too busy to meddle with other people's business. At least he tried to in mine."
Her teeth snapped in a vicious click.
A number of questions crowded to Gregory's mind, as they crossed the jettied inlet and headed down the coast. He asked them in rapid-fire order.
"How many boats have you?"
"Twenty-five. Using sixteen to-day."
"Why don't you run them all?"
"Can't get the men. That is, good ones. I'm hiring and firing all the time. Paying thirty-eight now and that leaves me short-handed even with the boats I'm working."
"How many boats has Mascola?"
The girl was silent for a moment. Then she answered:
"Can't say. Somewhere about fifty, maybe more. It's hard to check him up. His boats cruise a long way out and some of them don't put in to Legonia at all."
"What kind of fish are you catching now?"
"Halibut mostly, some barracuda. Haven't tried for sardines or albacore since your cannery shut down."
The Petrel rolled lazily in the trough of the swell as she sped down the coast. Suddenly the darkness ahead was blurred by an indistinct shape and the man at the wheel put the vessel over sharply. As he did so he narrowly escaped a collision with an unlighted boat which loomed directly across their bow.
"Trawler fishing within the three-mile limit without lights," the girl explained to her passenger.
Gregory remembered Dickie Lang's words concerning alien interference. He knew that running without lights was illegal. Why was the law not enforced?
In answer to his question, the girl burst out: "You just wait. I couldn't take the time now to tell you of all the laws Mascola breaks and if I did you wouldn't believe me."
"How can he get by with it?" Gregory asked.
Dickie Lang walked to the rail and searched the dark water in the direction of the shore before she replied: "There are three different kinds of laws out here. The navigation laws are made by the government, the fishing laws by the state, and the law of the sea is made by the fishermen. If you break the pilot-rules they'll haul you up before the local inspector at Port Angeles and fine you, take away your license or put you in jail. But they've got to have the proof and that is hard to get. If you break the state's laws you run up against the fish commissioner. His deputies do their best to protect the fish and see that the fishermen use the right kind of gear. If they catch an outfit with the goods, they put them over. But it's hard to do."
She stared away into the faintly graying darkness.
"Cut through the kelp, Tom. It will save us a little and we're going to need it."
"And the fisherman's law you spoke about. What is that?" Gregory queried.
She faced him suddenly. "I don't know how to explain it," she said. "Every one has to learn it for himself. It's the law of the biggest and fastest boat. The law of the longest and strongest arm. The law of sand and a quick trigger."
Gregory felt his pulse quicken as she went on:
"You see we have to depend on ourselves out here to settle our troubles. Whatever happens, happens quick. Generally there are not many witnesses. If you knew trouble was coming, you might get a deputy to come out, but the chances are ten to one they wouldn't. They would say it was only a fisherman's row and tell you to swear out a warrant. And if you go to law, Mascola will bring five witnesses for each of yours and they'll outswear you every time for they can lie faster than a man can write it down."
Again she paused and searched the gray border of the receding curtain of night. Far away Gregory could hear the roar of the breakers. From out the gray dusk ahead appeared the shadowy outline of a rugged promontory jutting far out into the sea.
"Keep close in, Tom. Our last string's dead ahead, off Peeble Beach. When you get around the point swing on the outside of Coward Rocks and give her all she'll stand."
She walked slowly about the deck with her eyes fixed on the wave-washed shore-line.
"So you see each outfit makes its own laws and it's up to them to enforce them. Our law is to mind our own business and get the fish. The only law we break is Mascola's. He tries to tell us where to fish. He bullies the ones he can and fights the ones he can't in any way that is easiest and safest. He's a thief and a crook and he'd commit murder in a minute if he thought he could get by with it."
The idea lodged in her brain. She leaned closer and exclaimed in a low voice: "And how do we know he doesn't get by with murder the way he does with everything else? There's many a man picked up along the coast as a 'floater' that nobody knows how he drowned."
Daybreak was upon them as they hugged the shore-line and slipped into the protecting shadow of Long Point. Dickie Lang's words sank deep into Gregory's consciousness. A half-formed question found its way at last to his lips.
"Do you think," he began, but was interrupted by the man at the wheel.
"Can't make the inside channel. Have to go round."
He altered the helm as he spoke. Dickie Lang jumped to his side.
"We've got to run the short-cut, Tom. No use going round. They'd spot us a mile away in this light. If they're laying round my nets I want to surprise them. I'll take the boat."
The fisherman surrendered the wheel and sidled out of the way.
"She's your boat," he said with blunt emphasis. "But don't forget it's my license. I wouldn't take the chance."
The girl nodded. "My license is hanging up in the engine-room," she retorted. "If anything happens, it's me that is responsible. I won't forget."
She spun the wheel over as she spoke and the Petrel swerved like a gull and headed straight for the rugged cliff which towered high above the foaming water, bold and defiant of the angry waves which dashed relentlessly at its base.
Off the port bow Gregory saw a narrow pathway of quiet water fringed on one side by white-toothed swells, on the other by the barnacled feet of the point itself. He leaned over the rail and followed the course of the ribbon-like path which wound like a snake among the curling waves and jagged rocks. Could that be the channel the girl meant to take?
Dickie Lang's eyes were fixed with his upon the devious waterway. The hand which held the wheel was steady and the Petrel plunged boldly on as if bent upon flinging its fragile shell upon the time-defying rocks of Long Point.
Gregory measured the distance to the overhanging ledge. What was the use of taking such a chance as this? It looked like one in a million. In another minute they would pile up. They were almost abreast of the thread-like channel when he saw the fingers on the wheel tighten. The steering gear whirred and the Petrel leaped forward to answer the master-hand at the helm.
Then came the miracle.
The slim bow of the little craft swung about. For a second she wallowed in the trough of the ground-swell, rose high on its foaming crest and nestled slowly down in the quiet water of the rock-bound channel. And the distance to safety had been gained by the scant margin of only a few inches. A sharper or blunter turn would have ripped the vessel from bow to stern. Was it luck? He shook his head slowly. Then he began to understand why the fishermen took orders from Dickie Lang. He was recalled to himself by a laughing voice and he saw that the girl's eyes were sparkling, as she said without turning her head:
"Did you think you were going to have to swim ashore?"
Gregory laughed. "I could feel the water about my ears," he said. Then he added: "Do you do stunts like that often?"
She shook her head. "Sometimes it is necessary to take a chance," she answered. "You've got to catch Mascola's bunch red-handed. When we round the 'bull-nose' we'll be right on top of our nets."
Her lips were firmly compressed and the little lines which suddenly appeared about her mouth were hard. With her eyes still held by the barnacled rocks, she snapped: "Then you may see something."
They were nearing the end of Long Point. Throttling the throbbing motor until its soft breathing could be heard only a few boat-lengths, she nodded to the fisherman:
"All right, Tom. She's yours. Plenty of water from here on. When you round 'bull-nose' head for the cove with all you've got."
Relieved from the wheel she dodged into the engine-room and returned with two rifles. Flashing a glance shoreward to determine the Petrel's position she rejoined Gregory and handed him one of the guns. Gregory reached eagerly for the weapon. For the past hour he had been forced to sit by a spectator. Now was a chance to do something. To play a game he knew. His fingers caressed the stock of the Winchester as the girl exclaimed:
"Don't suppose there is any use telling you how to shoot. Only at sea things are a little different. You have to count on the roll. Sight full until you get on the range. Distances are deceiving on the water. Pull on the slow rise if you can. That's when she's steadiest."
He noted her quiet manner of speaking and the businesslike way with which she handled her gun. What she meant for him to do he did not clearly understand. Whatever it was, she would find him ready. He slipped a shell into the barrel from the magazine, and waited. He noticed that the girl was watching him closely as they came to the end of the winding channel. Then she gave him brief instructions.
"When we pass that big rock ahead we'll head in. Then you will see a string of nets. You may see two strings, one laid around the other. If any of Mascola's gang are hanging around I'm going to try to persuade them to give me sea-way."
She set her lips grimly and tapped the rifle. Drawing a pair of binocular-glasses from her pocket she focused them carefully.
"Don't shoot until I do. If they are trying to lay around I'll open up on them and start them moving. Aim at the water-line and pump away as fast as you like. All right, Tom. Give her the gun."
The Petrel leaped under the advancing throttle and raced for the curiously fashioned nub at the cliff's end.
Gregory crowded forward, striving to catch a glimpse of the water beyond. As they flashed by the "bull-nose" she saw silhouetted against the brightening light which streamed across the water from the beach, the sharp outline of a fishing-boat. Then he heard a low exclamation from the girl.
"He's laid around my string," she gritted, and again the glasses flashed to her eyes. She whirled on the fisherman. "Look at that, Tom! He's stripping my nets. I've got him with the goods this time and, so help me God, I'm going to make him pay. Don't shoot," she cautioned Gregory. "Wait till we get closer. I want to get him with the deadwood. Wide open, Tom, we'll run him off his legs. I'll——"
A puff of white smoke drifted upward from the deck of the launch ahead and floated lazily above the rigging. Some fifty feet beyond the port bow of the Petrel the water leaped upward in a tiny spout. Dickie's rifle sounded in Gregory's ear and the report of his own prolonged the echoes. As he pumped in another cartridge he noted that the girl's eyes were shining and her red lips were parted in a smile. Between shots he heard her mutter:
"Can you beat that? The dirty robbers are going to stay and fight?"
THE LAW OF THE FISHERMEN
Her decks spouting flame, the Petrel raced on to meet the enemy. Gregory crowded close to the rail and dropped to his knee. The girl was right about the roll. He shoved the rifle through a cross-stay, sighted carefully and pulled the trigger.
"I have the system now," he called.
She nodded. "That's the stuff. Aim for the engine-house. They're shooting from the ports."
The bullets from the alien craft were flying wide. The fusillade from the Petrel was evidently interfering with the enemy's marksmanship.
"No expert riflemen there," Gregory commented.
Dickie shook her head. "A knife's their long suit," she answered. "I never saw them shoot much before. Don't believe they——"
A jingle of breaking glass interrupted her and the starboard side-lamp toppled from the bracket and crashed to the deck.
"Get down," Gregory commanded. "They're getting the range."
The girl smiled and wiped away the blood which spurted from a small cut in her cheek. "Just fool luck," she answered, leaning coolly against the stays and reloading her rifle. "That was only an accident."
Gregory was by her side in an instant. Grasping her roughly by the arm he said harshly: "Get down, I tell you."
She jerked away her arm and started to speak. Then she dropped to the deck.
"Maybe you're right at that," she admitted, a smile playing about her lips.
The firing became brisker as the distance lessened between the two boats, while the enemy bullets became wilder and more desultory. Dickie ceased firing and turned to the man at the wheel.
"It's Rossi with the Roma. He's getting under way."
She flung out an arm pointing in the direction of the stubby-nosed point which lay across the little bay. "Head for the arch, Tom. We'll cut him off." Pointing to the fleeing boat she explained to Gregory: "He's almost in shoal water right now. To get out he's got to follow the channel. It's dead low tide and he'll have to make a big bend to get out. We'll cut across and head him off. He has the speed of us and a quarter of a mile lead. But he has farther to go. If he opens up he's liable to pile up on the rocks. It's about an even bet he'll make it for he's clever. But if he does we'll be right on top of him when he comes out. Then I'll teach him a lesson he won't forget in a hurry."
The Petrel altered her course while she was speaking and sped off at a tangent. The Roma, dashing shoreward, turned and angled sharply, running parallel to her pursuer.
"He's sure pounding her," the girl observed as she noted the increasing distance which separated the two boats. "If he holds that clip when he comes to that figure S channel, he'll never make the turns." She shut her jaw tighter. "Cut in a little closer, Tom," she ordered. "We'll make him take all the chances there are."
Gregory climbed to the top of the engine-house and watched the Roma dodging among the rocks like a frightened rabbit. Dickie Lang was poised in the bow like a figurehead, one foot resting on the rail. Her hair, jerked from her cap by the fingers of the dawn-wind, streamed out behind her in a shower of dull red gold. Her eyes were shining with the joy of the chase.
"He's almost at the turn," she called back. "He'll never make it on an outgoing tide. He's got to slow up. If he does, we've got him. If he doesn't——"
She was interrupted by a muffled exclamation from the man at the wheel. The Roma's bow was rising from the water. For an instant she planed like a high-powered racing-boat. Then, as if exhausted by the chase, she settled slowly to rest in the white water, her masts angling sharply toward the beach.