CLEARING A SNARL
FREDERICK WILLIAM WALLACE
Clarence Dickey doesn't know, even to this day, how he got the Minnehaha's trip of fish . . but then fishermen spun yarns about Captain Roxton and a fight
CLARENCE DICKEY, a fish merchant and vessel owner, shook the snow off his overcoat and thrust back the roller-top of his desk. As he overhauled the pile of letters and telegrams on the blotter, the corrugations of worry on his forehead seemed to advance until they reached the scanty patch of iron-gray hair at the back of his head.
“John,” he said, to the clerk checking up a tallysheet in the back office, “jest take a shoot down th’ wharf an’ bring Cap’en Winslow up here. Hurry, now!”
When his son-in-law, oilskinclad and rubber-booted, swung into the office in the wake of the clerk, Dickey greeted him with ill-concealed anxiety in his voice.
“Well, Harry, are you goin’ to get away this afternoon?”
“I’ve jest been up to the telegraph-office now,” answered the other, throwing his oil-skin hat on the floor and flopping into a chair. “Bulletin ain’t promisin’much for to-morrow. Heavy no’west winds and snow. Glass down to twenty-nine three. No fishin’ weather, Mr. Dickey.”
The old gentleman stamped in vexation and scanned the correspondence on the desk.
“Good land, Harry!” he almost shouted. “This’ll never do!
Here’s jest a bare week to Lent an’ not a pound of fish have I in th’ whole place. Look at these orders! Look at these telegrams!
An’ all howlin’ for fish. Here’s a four-thousand pound order from Cassidy—says if I don’t fill his orders he’ll raue all his business away from me. Here’s a wire from Collins and Hazen wantin’ t’ know right away if I kin fill their bill. Four o’ them telegrams are from Zigler Fish Company—our best customers—wantin’ t’ know when I’m shippin’ their stuff. I wouldn’t want t’ lose their custom; but what kin I do? There ain’t been a vessel in with a trip for a week now an’ none o’ th’ boat fishermen hev made a set for a fortnight—”
“We don’t make th’ weather, Mr. Dickey,” interrupted Winslow calmly.
“I know that,” fumed the merchant petulantly. “But if I don’t fill these orders, I might as well shut up shop, for all this business’ll go to the Bay Shore Fish Company.” The fishing skipper regarded a large office calendar thoughtfully.
“I wouldn’t worry about that, Mr. Dickey,” he said, after a pause. “Th’ Bay Shore Comp’ny ain’t any better off. They can’t git any fish themselves—”
“Oh, can’t they?” interposed Dickey. “Well, Harry, that’s jest where you’re makin’ a mistake, for I happen t’ know that they’re getting a vessel in very soon—”
“Who’s th’ man?” ejaculated the other in surprise. “Fred Hanson in the Minnehaha,” answered the merchant with a sigh. “I happened t’ be up in th’ telegraph office when Hanson wired in from Cobtown t’ the Company, and I managed t’ get a glimpse o’ th’ wire. Says he has fifty thousand o’ fish aboard an’ he’s offerin’ it to them at three cents. They’ll give it to him, and be glad to get his trip.”
“Oho! So he’s got fifty thousand, has he? An’ he’s a-goin’t’ break his contract with you for th’ sake of an extra quarter of a cent. Nice kind of a swab he is!”
“That’s the way of the world,” he said. “Hanson’s been selling to me all winter—I made a contract with him—an’ now he gives me th’ go-by when I need his fish th’ most.”
C WINGING around in his chair, he laid his hand upon ^ the skipper’s oil-coated shoulder.
“Harry!” he said, slowly, “these people are out to break me. They’ve been after Hanson all winter and he’s gone to them at last. Contracts ain’t worth a cuss unless they’re made by a man that kin keep his word. I’m in a fix—a bad fix. I didn’t cal’late, we’d git sich a run o’ bad weather, an’ I promised all these people that I’d fill their orders for Lent. I want to extend my business, an’ I had a chance o’ making a big thing, for all these western dealers promised t’ give me their orders.
“If Hanson hadn’t gone back on me, I c’d ha’ filled th’ most o’ these bills, but as things are now, I’m afraid I’m goin’ t’ be hard hit, an’ th’ Bay Shore Company’ll jest step in an’ capture all th’ trade I’ve bin years a-buildin’ up.”
Winslow pursed his lips and when he spoke there was a steely ring in his voice.
“What price kin you offer my gang for a trip?”
“Harry, ef ye’ll risk makin’ a trip for me, ye kin sell me all ye kin bring in for three an’ a half cents a pound— haddock, cod, hake, cusk, an’ all—steak or scrod—I’ll make no cull. You’ll get that, an’ not a cent less.”
The skipper nodded and the merchant waited on tenterhooks for his answer. It was blowing a gale outside squalls and snow-storms—and the weather had been bad for almost two weeks. All the Anchorville fleet was in port or at anchor in shelter-harbors waiting for the weather to moderate. In consequence, with the great fish demand for Lenten season, prices were high and dealers desperate. Fishing in such weather was risky and Dickey knew that he was asking his son-in-law to take a big chance.
Winslow thought it over too; thought of his wife and baby; thought of his men and their wives and families. Winslow knew exactly what he would be up against as soon as he hauled outside Anchorville Heads, while the fish merchant did not.
“What do ye say, Harry?” queried the other, hesitatingly. “Will you take a chance? I—I—I’ll look after Isabel an’ th’ boy ef anything should happen—”
He paused awkwardly,
“ ’Tain’t them so much,” replied Winslow slowly. “It’s th’ men. You know what’ll happen ef I lose any o’ them in th’ dories? You know what it is t’ have a man’s wife an’ kids acomin’ to you an’ sayin’ ye threw their father’s life away? An’ all for to fill a dealer’s order! Cuss them an’ their telegrams! But—I’ll go!”
Dickey wrung the young skipper’s hand silently.
THE snow lay deep on the Isabel Winslow's decks when the skipper jumped aboard of her. In the rigging, the nor’west gale howled a mournful note. Below, in cabin and forecastle, the men of his gang were loafing or overhauling gear. When the skipper swung down the cabin gangway, Jimmy Thomas looked up from the pile of gangings he was hitching and inquired.
“What’sth’bulletin, skipper?” “Nawthin’ promisin’,” replied Winslow. “Same old thing— more snow, more blow.”
“Cal’late we won’t go out today, then,” remarked a man, hooking up a tub of trawl.
“You’re cal’latin’ wrong,” answered Winslow with a smile. “Th’ sooner we git out, th’ more money we’ll make. I’ve th’ promise o’ three an’ a half cents a pound ef we git in before February fifth. To-day’s th’ twenty-fifth o’ January, an’ ef we’re goin’ t’ draw them share-checks, we’d better be movin’.”
“Dirty weather, skipper,” said a man, shaking his head, ominously.
“Aye, it’s dirty enough, I won’t deny,” returned the skipper. “But the fish are on Brown’s Bank, an’ Brown’s is jest a good hundred an’ fifty miles from where we are now. I cal’late we’d better git a bit nearer them.
“We’ll h’ist away at four o’clock, so thar’s plenty o’ time t’ take yer dunnage ashore. I won’t get sore on any man that wants t’ quit, but Fred Hanson’s lyin’ into Cobtown Harbor with fifty thousand an’ he’s leavin’ Clarence Dickey in th’ lurch by breakin’ his contract an sellin’ to th’ Bay Shore concern. Dickey has always treated us pretty white an’ I cal’late th’ least we kin do is t’ help him out now.”
WINSLOW kicked the snow out of his boots and stepped quietly into the bedroom.
“Is he asleep?” he whispered.
Mrs. Winslow drew aside the curtains of the cradle and gazed into the downy blankets where the first and only scion of the Winslow house lay with his eyes screwed tight in the slumber of babyhood.
“Yes, he’s knockin’ out a reg’lar lay-off calk, Isabel,’ said the skipper softly, as he bent over the basket-bed. “Lord, but he’s a hound, ain’t he, sweetheart? Listen to th’ snore of him! Jes like an’ ol’ trawler after a straight night an’ day set. Oh, but he’s a boy an’ a half, dear, an’ I’m sure sorry to leave you both.”
As he stooped over the cradle, a drop of chilly water fell from his oilskins on to the little chubby arm which lay over the blanket. There was a movement in the woolly nest and a pair of blue eyes opened slowly and blinked at the light.
“Lordy, Isabel, I’ve woke him up!”
And Harry smiled quizzically at his wife.
“Yes, you’ve woke him up,” returned Mrs. Winslow with a laugh. “Come in here and drown the poor dear with all the drippings of those fishy oil-clothes of yours!” She stooped down and lifted the baby out.
“Look, dearie! Papa’s going away. Say good-bye!”
The youngster stretched out a chubby fist and crowed. The blue eyes wandered all over the great yellow-clad figure before him. Under the sou’wester he recognized a familiar face.
The tiny pink fingers closed on his father’s uplifted hand.
“See him, Isabel,” cried he, delightedly. “He’s shakin’ hands. Feel th’grip of him! He’s closin’on my finger like a squid. A grip like a trawl-hauler he has, by gosh! Ain’t he th’ deuce an’ all, Isabel? Good-bye, sonny!”
And he whipped the oilskin hat from his head and kissed the little, squirming, chuckling bundle nestling in his mother’s arms.
The baby restored to the cradle, crowing delightedly, Winslow turned away with a queer feeling in his throat. Through the window he could see the whirling snow and a vista of bleak water beyond. Cold, harsh, cruel it seemed, bleak, sere. He felt the thick carpet under his heavily booted feet; felt the comforting warmth of his home and sniffed at the perfumed air of the apartment. He turned to go, with a sigh, while his pretty wife followed him to the door.
TTEEDLESS of his streaming clothes, she threw her arms around his neck, and her voice choked with
“Oh, Harry, must you go? Can’t you give up this trip? Never mind father! What is his business compared to the wives and children of the men who toil for him?”
The young skipper placed his hands upon her shoulders and smiled.
“Sweetheart!” he said. “If all fishermen were to think that way—there’d be no fishin’! Pshaw! what’s a little weather, anyhow? Lordy, sweetheart, we’ll go out in this an’ be as snug as a bug on a rug. Good warm bunks, plenty to eat, an’ an able vessel what kin stand anythin’. Gosh! Fishin’ ain’t as bad as you women think it is—”
“But look what some of the vessels have gone through lately.”
“Fishermen’s yarns,” answered her husband, assuringly. “Biggest liars on earth is fishermen. They tell them yarns so’s to git bigger prices an’ to keep down competition. Don’t want everybody goin’ a-fishin’, so they make out it’s a hard life. Well, good-by, dearie. Take good care o’ th’ boy. Lordy, I wouldn’t lose him for all th’ fish in th’ sea!” And squaring his shoulders, he stepped out into the whirling snow: butting his head into the storm, he plowed along the road.
“What a dog’s life we live,” he murmured. “Yes, a dog’s life! Leave a home like that—clean, cozy, warm an’ comfortable, to herd in a vessel’s dirty cabin with gurry-stinks an’ bilge.
“Well, th’ whole of us is in th’ same boat. They’ve all got nice homes themselves, an’ wives an’ children—wives that love them. An’ yet they’ve got t’ leave them same as me. Whew, ain’t she breezin’ some.”
He swung down the wharf murmuring, “Aye, a good wife is a sailor’s sheet-anchor.”
HP HE Isabel Winslow's gang had discussed the situation from all points of view, while their skipper was uptown, and all had made their decisions. Winslow stepped into the office for a moment to fix up a little business and then jumped aboard the vessel.
Shoving back the foc’sle slide, he sung out: “All up below! Get under way!”
Having passed the word, he went aft and repeated the command to the cabin gang.
The men were still there.
Silently they pulled on boots, mittens and oilskins, while the skipper sat smoking on the locker, wondering who had gone ashore.
“All ready, skipper!” cried Jimmy Thomas, from the deck.
Winslow jumped up the companion and glanced over the gang stamping around the snowladen decks.
“Who went ashore?” he inquired.
The men stared at each other in wonder.
“Nobody’s gone,” answered old Jimmy. “All th’ gang’s here.”
Winslow was pleased.
“Bully boys!” he cried. “Now trice up your jib. Loose fores’l an’ jumbo, an’ pass some extra stops around th’ mains’l there.
Get th’ boom inboard an’ put the crotch tackles on it. It ain’t blowin’ a zephyr outside, so get your ridin’-sail out an’ bent on.
We’ll need some after-sail t’ carry us out past th’ Heads.”
TP HE gang went cheerfully about the work of getting ready for sea. They wrestled the frozen canvas out of the stops with rnittened fists, cursefully declaiming the weather with lurid oaths. There was no one
on the dock to see them go; in the dark of a winter’s evening they hoisted foresail, jumbo and riding-sail to the spite of the nor’-wester and streaked across the harbor, with Winslow at the wheel.
As they shot clear of the wharves, he turned for a brief instant to gaze up to the windows of his home. There was a light in the bedroom and the young skipper knew that all he held most dear was in that apartment.
“God keep them both,” he murmured, and there was an iron ring in his voice as he sang out to the gang:
“Stand by your jumbo tail-rope! Lay aft, some of you, to th’ ridin’-sail. Now then! Ha-a-rd alee!”
The schooner tacked out of the harbor in the darkness and whirling snow.
The cook’s whistle shrilled out for the “first half,” when the occulting flash of Lower Anchorville Head came abeam, but Winslow stopped the men as they were about to troop below for supper.
“Not yet, fellers,” he said. “Stand by till we get out in the bay.” It was as well they did, for as soon as they shot from out the lee of the land, the nor’wester hit it and the vessel rolled down until the lee rail went under.
The skipper eased her up.
“Lord, what a breeze!” he said, and he let her fall off again until the lower dead-eyes of the rigging tore through the creaming water. It was wild driving and, when an extra hard puff hit her, she rolled down until sheerpoles and half the deck disappeared from sight. The men hung to the windward rail and rigging, while the cook dismayed at the smashing up of all the table gear spread for supper, clambered up the ladder and cursed sinfully.
“Holy sailor!” bawled Jimmy Thomas, standing lee wheel with the skipper.
“There’s some heft to this.”
Winslow nodded, but there was no easing up of the iron grip which kept the wheel over.
^PRAY slashed over them in stinging sheets. The snow, ^ driving before the gale, blinded all eyes which peered to windward and outlined the plunging schooner in ghostly whiteness. A terrible cresting sea was running. The roar of it mingled with the shriek of the wind and drowned all other sounds. As the vessel hauled off the land, she started scooping the seas aboard and the men hung to the weather rigging and between the dories. It was no joke now. The wild manner in which the gallant schooner was plunging and driving, began to frighten a few of the more timid fishermen. It was unnatural, this leaping, storming swing and every timber in the vessel seemed to twist with the shock of the combers striking on the bow.
Winslow leaned over and shouted in Thomas’ ear:
“Leave t’ wheel. Get th’ gang-aft. Take—ridin’—sail —in.”
And as old Jimmy clawed his way along the weather side of the house, the skipper eased the helm down. With canvas cracking and flapping in the wind, and the spray flying through the air like hail, the able vessel curtsied to the foam-topped surges, while a troop of streaming, oiled-up figures scrambled aft.
“Come along there!” roared Winslow, as he watched the riding-sail flapping with thunderous reports, “Get
her down! Some o’ you to th’ sheet here—Ah! Watch out! Blazes, she’s adrift!”
With the tremendous slatting of the sail, the mousing came off the hook of the lower sheet-block and it slipped out of the ring-bolt in the deck. Whirling the heavy blocks around, the riding-sail gave another cannon-like snap and, parting the tack-rope, stripped the hoops and streamed overhead, held only by the throat halyards.
“Get her in!” bawled Winslow. “Grab th’ sheet, some o’ you! Torment! Th’ mast’ll go. Jump for’ard an’ slack th’foresheet! Quick! I’ll run her off!”
Henderson and Burk jumped to do his bidding. The others watched the jerking masthead with fascinated eyes, while above them the ribboning riding-sail flapped and snapped like a flag.
“Sheet’s started!” yelled a voice from for’ard.
Winslow swung the helm up.
“Stand by to grab that sail when it comes down!” he ordered.
AND as the schooner swung up before the gale, the fractious canvas swooped into the sea alongside, while the gang snatched at it with biting oaths and hauled it aboard.
“All flapped t’ ribbons, I cal’late?”
“Aye, skipper, she’s purty well tattered, an’ all th’ hoops hev gone over th’ side.”
“Well, fellers, get th’ jumbo down an’ tied up. We’ll run under the fores’l—she’ll make better weather o’ this breeze now. I had to git her well clear o’ th’ land afore 1 swung her off. Whose wheel is it?”
“Mine, I cal’late,” answered a man.
“Here you are then. Sou’west by west. Now, you firsttable crowd, let’s go an’ see what th’ cook has for us. I cal’late he’ll be for raisin’ trouble with me for givin’ her that little roll-down a while ago.”
The cook was profane in his comments, when the first table gang piled down the ladder, but, being cook on a fisherman, he was pretty well used to the consequences of sail-carrying in a breeze. The vessel, now running before the wind and sea, was practically on an even keel, though she did some awful fore-and-aft swooping as she topped the big Fundy seas, while the forecastle resounded with the roar of the bow-wave and the creaking of straining timbers.
The men, oblivious to everything but their supper, gulped down mugs of steaming hot tea and dived into the great enamel pots of stew with hearty gusto, gossiping as they ate. Idle talk is peculiar to fishermen and, as a rule, not much credit is given it; but Winslow, seated at the after end of the table, paused for a moment to listen to the shouting conversation of two or three men sitting by the pawl-post.
“Aye,” one man was saying, “Fred Hanson is a proper swab. I know him and, ef I was Jim Roxton, I’d cut th’ heart out of him with a shack knife. Any man that hangs around a married woman is no man at all an’ thar’s what Hanson is doin’ all th’ time.”
“But, Jim Roxton’s woman was alius a flighty one,” interposed another. “I wouldn’t trust her th’ length o’ a gangin’. Jim warn’t married to her but three months afore she was sparkin’ aroun’ with other men when he was to sea an’ all Cobtown knows it.” “D’ye think Roxton knows it?”
“It’s hard t’ say. He’s fishin’ out o’ Gloucester with that knock-about o’ his an’ he don’t come home very often. An awful quiet, decent feller is Jim—” “Who’s that you fellers are a scandalizin’ of?” cried Winslow, laying down his mug.
A black-whiskered trawler replied.
“Dexter, here, was tellin’ about Fred Hanson’s goin’s-on with Mrs. Roxton. Hanson’s forever sbootin’ in to Cobtown to see her when Roxton is away an’ th’ hull town is talkin’ about it—”
“D’ye mean th’ Roxton what is skipper o’ th’ Georgie Graham —a Gloucester knock-about?” “Yep! That’s th’ feller. Married one o’ them Ellis girls from Green Cove. She’s a good looker, they say, but I alius h’ard she wasn’t t’ be trusted.” Winslow gave a grunt and his lips curled in contempt.
“Fred Hanson, eh?” he muttered, grimly, and he thought of the days when he, too, had a round turn with Hanson. “Huh! the more I hear o’ that feller th’ more I’m convinced that he’s a blackguard. His word ain’t worth a cuss an’ he’s chasin’ after married men’s wives. Th’ swab! He’ll get all that’s cornin’ to him some fine day.”
Continued on page 62
Continued from page 14
AND he buttoned on his oil jacket and hat and swung up on deck. The man at the wheel greeted him anxiously.
“Skipper,” said he, and in the light from the binnacle, his face was worried. “She’s takin’ charge o’ me. I can’t steer her in this sea an’ I’m scairt I’ll jibe her.”
^“Let your dory-mate take th’ wheel,
“Not on your life,” came from the watch-mate standing lookout on top of the house. “I had her for about five minutes an’ she’s got my goat.”
“Hand her over, Anson. I’ll relieve you. Go down for’ard and git your supper.”
Under the foresail the schooner stormed through the night, while the wind howled in the halyards and rigging of the canvasdenuded mainmast, and spray and snow made the deluged decks an inferno of wintry spite. _ The wind seemed to be inj j creasing. With the turn of the tide at ! midnight there would be a raging inferno ; on the waters—the whirling maelstrom of wind-and-tide-whipped sea, peculiar to the Bay of Fundy.
Winslow knew it but, as he strained at ¡ the wheel of the plunging schooner, he allowed his thoughts to wander to the neat little cottage overlooking Anchorville Bay.
“Her an’ th’ boy’ll be asleep now, I cal’late. Lord Harry, but he’s a boy! Th’ ! wee blue eyes of him—clear as a summer sky! An’ the strength of him! Gosh, I kin feel th’ grip 0’ them little fists 0’ his aroun’ my finger, yet. An’ t’ see him steepin’ curled up in them woolly blankets! ’Tis jest a picture—yes! Jest like what ! ye see in them ladies’ magazines th’ wife gets.”
The vessel drove her bowspritUnto a comber and the windlass disappeared. Winslow spoked the wheel over as the sea roared aft and creamed around his boot-tops.
“Aha!” he muttered. “Tide’s turnin’.” | And, continuing his previous thoughts, he crooned a song and thought of home— of the joy and peacefulness of it all. When his mind wandered to Hanson and Rox, ton’s wife, he gripped the spokes as if he were gripping the throat of the man who was wrecking probably just such a home
DOTH gangs, fore and aft, were loung'nS below, oiled up and ready for a call. The Isabel Winslow was bucking the tide-rips. Overhead the decks resounded with the thunder of boarding seas, while through the ventilator, skylight and half-opened slides, poured streams of chilly brine. Winslow was steering, lashed to the wheel, white on the house the two dory-mates, whose watch j it was, clung with arms passed through I the stops of the furled mainsail.
Wa-a-tch out! yelled one of the men.
The vessel poised on a crest, then dived ; into a black wall of roaring surge which buried her clean to the tops of the nested dories. Thundering aft it came and the skipper clung to the spokes, white the sea plucked at his body and tried to drag him over the taffrail.
“Scott!” he cried when the water sluiced off. “That one was a brute. Get the gang up, Dexter, and reef that fores’l. She’s down by th’head.”
' The men turned out, nerved for action. Winslow roared his commands. “Ye’ll have t’ reef her runnin.” I ain’t a-goin’t’ risk bringin’ her to, an’ I doubt ef she’d come anyway. Slack away on your halyards until ye get th’ reef-band well down an’ some o’ you tail on to that gaffdownhaul. Look out she don’t jibe, but I’ll watch her all I can.”
HE REMAINED aft at the wheel, easing the vessel by every trick of steering he knew. Anxiously straining his eyes into the darkness ahead, he tried to make out what the gang were doing. Another sea came aboard. The foresail gave a thunderous flap and fetched up with a shock on the jibing gear and, when the water streamed over the quarter, Winslow listened with his heart in his mouth for the ominous hail of “man overboard!”
It did not come, however. But to his ears there came snatches of lurid Bank cursing and he knew that all was well. Swearing helped a lot that night. In spite of the fact that all of the panting, perspiring men, struggling with the reef-earring of a sheet-iron double-ought foresail full of wind, were in immediate danger of instant precipitation before their Maker, their language abated not a whit in vigor and intensity.
“Up she goes!” came the chorus from for’ard and, sluiced in spray, the gang swayed up throat, peak and jigs.
Jimmy Thomas clawed his way aft. “All serene-o skipper!” he bawled. Winslow nodded.
“Take th’ wheel, Jimmy. I’m a goin’t’ shoot her in through th’ Gull Island Passage an’ git out o’ this howlin’ drink.” Hoisting himself on the main sheer-pole he scanned the blackness to port.
“H’m,” he muttered, as the vessel rose on a sea. “One, two, three, four—one, two three, four, five. Four flashes and an interval of five seconds. That’s Gull Island.” Scrambling aft he shouted. “Stand by to jibe your fores’l. Git th’ tackle on an’ let her go easy! Ready? Let her come, Jimmy!”
Crash! the short boom went over, and the vessel swung in for the land.
In twenty minutes they had stormed through the passage and were gliding along in comparatively smooth water. It was two in the morning but none of the men had turned in. They were in the act of casting off their oilskins, when the skipper roused them out again. Anathematizing the luck that sent a man winterfishing, they climbed on deck.
“Reef th’ mains’l an’ set it. Give her th’ jumbo when you’re ready.” When the extra sail had been hoisted, they stood up and down the bay in the lee of the land.
ABOUT four o’clock the snow ceased and the sky cleared. Overhead the stars blinked with the frosty shine of a winter’s night. When Winslow came on deck after a short nap, the lookout pointed with a mittened hand to the port light of a vessel on their weather quarter.
“That feller hez bin splittin’ tacks with us fur th’ last hour’n a half.”
“Who is he?” inquired the skipper, with a show of interest. “Ain’t Hanson’s Minnehaha, is it?”
“No,” answered the man. “It ain’t any of our fleet—neither Anchorville or Cobtown. She’s a lump of a vessel—knockabout, I think.”
The skipper bestowed a casual glance upon the vessel to windward.
“Some o’ them Maine haddockers from Sou’west Harbor, or Vinal Haven, I cabíate. Huggin’ the land for shelter.” He whistled a music hall ditty as he glanced at the sky.
“Clearin’ up,” he remarked. “Get a good shoot down to Brown’s if th’ wind don’t chop aroun’—Why, that joker’s an auxiliary! What’s he got his engine a-goin’ for?”
The putt-putt of a gasoline engine came stuttering over the water from the knockabout and, as they watched her, the two sidelights showed.
“Where’s he a-goin’?” queried the helmsman. “He’s bearin’ down on our quarter.”
“Want’s t’ speak t’ us, maybe.' Hold her as she is.”
They watched the other vessel looming nearer; watched her come within a cable’s length, and then the side-lights vanished.
“Well, what d’ye make o’ that?” cried the lookout. “He doused his lights—”
“By th’ Lord Harry!” cried the skipper, in astonishment. “He’s cornin’ right slap for us—Hi-i-o! you crazy loon! Sheer off or you’ll ram us.”
THE staccato exhaust of the motor was plainer now. The mystified watchers on the Isabel Winslow could see the ghostly loom of the other craft’s sails close aboard. There was no doubt of the intention, unless the crowd on the knockabout were playing some foolish, practical joke.
“Up with th’ helm,” yelled Winslow, as he jumped to the main-sheet. The booms swept over and fetched up on the jibing gear with a terrific crash—it was still blowing hard—as the other vessel surged past their stern.
“You crazy swab!” roared WTnslow, shaking his fist at the lonely figure at the knock-about’s wheel, “I’ll knock the stuffin’ out of you if you try that stunt again.”
Round swept the knock-about, with the crack and shock of jibing booms, and, with engine going, she came for the Winslow again.
“Well, what d’ye know about that?” ejaculated the skipper. _ “That feller’s gone crazy, an’ means t’ sink us! Call th’ gang—”
But there was no need to call them. The shock of the jibing booms had fetched them out all standing. They piled on deck with a rush, gasping with astonishment.
“Douse all the lights!” cried Winslow. “Gimme th’ wheel, you!”
He grasped the spokes and watched the other vessel bearing down on them again.
“To th’ main an’ fore-sheets there. Stand by your jumbo.”
While the gang scattered to stations, he watched the auxiliary with fascinated eyes. Both vessels were rushing through the water at a fair clip but the knockabout, with her engine going, could sail ; two feet to the Isabel Winslow's one, besides being able to manoeuvre quickly, independent of the wind. Down she snorted with the white water creaming from under her bows and driving ahead to strike the fleeing schooner dead amidships.
The perspiration poured from Winslow’s face as he saw the pursuer relentlessly swooping down.
“Main-sheet!” he roared, as he ground the helm up. “Slack away fore and aft!”
CRASH! the main-boom flew across the deck. As it fetched up on the sheet, the mainmast wavered for an instant and thundered down, splintered the rail into matchwood and, thumping and grinding alongside, threatened to stave in the whole quarter.
The knock-about had swashed past and was rounding up to leeward, while the Winslow’s gang screamed incoherent curses at her and waited for the next move. Winslow was completely taken aback. He expected to wake up and find it all a disagreeable dream. For a vessel to try deliberately, to ram another! Pah! It was unheard of! He rubbed his eyes to see if he were awake.
The mainmast with the mainsail and booms was still over the side grinding and banging in the seaway, while the knockabout came up under their leequarter.
“Hey there, Hanson!” came a voice across the heaving surge. “I ain’t through with ye yet—”
“Hanson? Hanson?” ejaculated Winslow dully. “Can that be—”
“By th’ ol’ flamin’ blazes!” cried Jimmy Thomas. “That’s Jim Roxton of th’ Georgie Graham!”
The knock-about was returning to the charge. As it sped past the Winslow's ; stern to deliver a drive from windward, the men yelled: “Hey, Jim Roxton! This ain’t Hanson—Isabel—Winslow!”
As they shouted the name, the other craft came into the wind and lay rolling in the swell with engine stopped. The I figure at her wheel shoved back the cabin slide. Men poured forth on her decks.
“Hi-i!” roared a voice. “Skipper’s gone crazy!”
“Stand by us till daylight!” cried Winslow and an affirmative chorus came back from the other vessel.
Heaving the vessel to the wind under foresail, they got torches alight, and in the glare of them cut the wreckage clear of the side. The mainsail and gaff were | hauled aboard. The boom and the remains of the mainmast were made fast j to a stout rope and veered out, astern.
I “Th’ spring-stay must ha’ been strained [ when th’ ridin’-sail went last night,” said I the skipper, when the work was done.
“Th’stick ud never ha’jumped otherwise.
Now, launch a dory, some of you, an’ pull | me over to that cussed tub t’ wind’ard.” A big red-faced man met them as they ! tumbled over the knock-about’s lee rail. “Cap’en Winslow, eh? Too bad about this night’s work. Cal’late our skipper’s gone loony. Comes on deck last night , after startin’ up the engine, an’ he locks th’ hull gang of us in th’ cabin an’ foc’sle. We c’d hear him swearin’ away at ye,
[ thinkin’ ye was this feller, Hanson, what has been monkeyin’ aroun’ with his wife— j Yes, he heard about it in Sou’west Í Harbor—”
“Why didn’t ye stop the engine?” j inquired Winslow.
“So we did,” hastily replied the man, “but we didn’t think about that at first. D’ye want t’ see th’ skipper? He’s in his ! berth—”
“Yes. I’ll go an’ see him,” growled the I other. “I’d like t’ wring his infernal neck j for th’ time he’s given me with his I goings-on.”
WINSLOW’S rage vanished when he entered the cabin and, through the I open door of the stateroom, saw the I haggard face of Roxton. He was sitting on his sea-chest with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasping his head. The men loafing around in the cabin respectfully drew away when Winslow entered.
“I suppose you’ve come over to have it out with me?” said Roxton harshly. “I don’t blame you, but it was a mistake—a mistake, and I’m sorry.”
The young bkipper stepped into the berth and laid his hand upon the other man’s shoulder.
“No, old man, I ain’t goin’ t’ say a word, for I take it ye didn’t know what ye were doin’. Cheer up; things ain’t so bad when daylight comes an’ th’ sun is shinin’.”
Roxton looked up.
“You know—of course you know! Everybody knows. Th’ swine! I’ll kill him an’ her too!” He gritted his teeth.
“I made a mistake,” he continued, more calmly. “I was up to th’ signal station on Gull Island thar an’ th’ keeper told me that Fred Hanson had come up through | th’ Passage last night, but th’ no’wester druv him back. I didn’t cal’late that there’d be any other vessel but his aroun’ here in sich weather, so when I met you standin’ up an’ down th’ Bay, I took you for Hanson’s semi-knock-about—ye’re both of a buiid—an’ was out t’ git him. I’m sorry for what I’ve done, but if that feller was out thar now I’d chase him clean t’ Georges for th’ pleasure o’ drivin’ my vessel’s bows into his! I’ll cut him down to his bootstraps—”
“Sh!” cautioned Winslow. “Brace up, man! I want ye t’ give me a tow into CobI town, an’ we’ll say nawthin’ about this day’s work. Ye shouldn’t fret about | things. Come on—get under way an’ I’ll pass ye a line, ’tis only a forty-mile pluck.” Captain Roxton shook Winslow’s hand. Getting a grip upon his feelings, he took command again.
Back on the Isabel Winslow they roused the fishing-hawser over the bows and the George Graham, with engine chugging J and sails full to the wintry breeze, dragged | the partly dismasted fisherman along the
Winslow paced the quarter thinking of many things. Fishing was not to be thought of with a new mainmast to get. lie pictured Clarence Dickey’s chagrin when he heard the news of the accident. It j was hard very hard—but whose fault was it? As he turned the problem over in his mind, he came to the root of things. “Humph!” he muttered grimly. “I j think I kin chalk this up to Hanson’s Î accounts.”
ÍT WAS a hard drag into Cobtown, but at nightfall they lurched past the lighthouse and into the harbor. There were a j number of fishermen lying to anchor off I the channel—stormbound, waiting for a J chance to shoot outside for a day’s fishing.
¡ The Georgie Graham, dragged her charge well into the harbor before both came to ! anchor.
Winslow had just gone below to change his clothes for going ashore, when the
skipper of the knock-about clattered down the companion. There was a tense look on his face as he picked his way among the trawlers lounging around the stove over to Winslow’s stateroom.
“Slide th’ door, Cap’en,” he said, and Winslow, wondering, acceded.
“He’s in here,” rasped Roxton. “Lyin’ above us.”
His face reflected the intensity of his emotions as he mentioned the hated name.
“What are ye goin’ t’ do?” whispered Winslow. “Keep a grip on yerself an’ don’t do anything rash.”
The other smiled grimly.
“Don’t worry, Winslow,” he said. “I’ve thought it all over. I’ll keep her well under my lee in future, but I’m goin’t’ dress him down afore we’re much older. D’ye
suppose he’s aboard his vessel?”
“I can’t say.”
The other nodded.
“Well, I’ll take a chance, but I want ye t’ come over with me. I want ye t’ stand by. Will ye come?”
WINSLOW hesitated. He did not care to mix into an affair like this, but as he thought it over his scruples vanished. Yes, he would go.
A few minutes later, both skippers leaped over the Minnehaha's rail. There was a light in the cabin. Roxton peered under the companion.
“He’s there,” he muttered grimly. Down the ladder both men clattered.
Hanson was in the act of shaving when they entered. At the sight of Roxton’s grim face appearing in the cabin mirror, he dropped the razor to the floor. There were three other men in the cabin. On recognizing the visitors, they discreetly went on deck.
“Draw th’ slide, boys,” said Roxton, as they climbed the ladder. He turned and faced the man before him.
“Well, Hanson,” rasped the Georgie Graham's skipper, as stern-eyed and grim, he surveyed the fat, swarthy face of the man he was addressing. “Sprucing’ up, eh? Goin’ ashore to see her, eh? Havin’ a deuce of a time when I’m to sea?”
The other’s dark face flushed. In his trepidation he wiped the lather off his half-shaven chin.
“I—I—don’t know what you’re a-drivin’ at,” he stuttered, avoiding Roxton’s steely gaze and fingering the soap-brush nervously.
Roxton laughed. It was not a nice laugh to listen to. Winslow stood by the gangway inwardly wishing he were anywhere else.
“You don’t know!” sneered Roxton, after an awkward pause. “Well, I cal’late I know and you an’ me’ll have it out afore we leave this cabin. You don’t know! Why every trawler aroun’ th’ coast hes bin makin’ foc’sle-talk o’ your name an’ hers. Pretty thing for a man t’ hear all Glo’ster a scandalizin’his wife. Eh? You sweep!”
Hanson fidgeted uneasily but said nothing, while the other continued.
“Now, my bucko, you’re agoin’t’ have it out with Mary Roxton’s husband. Stand out, you skunk!”
STEPPING forward, he fetched Hanson a blow in the face with his shut fist. “You struck me!” sputtered Hanson, leaping at his assailant, his black eyes burning with rage.
“Yes!” hissed Roxton, “an’ I’ll strike ye a good many times afore I’m through!” Smack! His left caught Hanson on the jaw and knocked him against the bulkhead.
The details are brutal. Even Winslow, calmly looking on, shuddered at the primitive savagery which seemed to possess the wronged fisherman. He was relentless and powerful; after he had broken down Hanson’s fistic opposition, he smashed the other with unmerciful hands. Outside all was silent. In the cabin the two men panted and fought in the feeble light from the binnacle-lamp. Around and around the stove they went, Hanson whining and retiring, and Roxton advancing, savage and vengeful. He never allowed his victim a breathing moment, but drove and smashed until Hanson’s face streamed blood and the very fat seemed to ooze out on his skin.
“You dog! You swab! You squirmin’ rat!” Every invective meant a blow.
Hanson’s breath was coming in hoarse gasps. He staggered around the room. Two or three times he cast around for a means of escape hut Winslow barred the only exit. Realizing that he was trapped | he collapsed, breathing heavily, upon a j locker, while Roxton stood over him with | a saturnine smile.
“Think I’m through with ye?” drawled ¡ the other with hideous irony in his voice. “Think I’ll let ye alone? No! I’ll make ye | lick th’ gurry off’n my boots afore I leave ye! Get down an’ do it, you bloody-eyed, fly-by-night! Down an’ lick my boots, you whinin’ dog!”
He smashed Hanson in the face again. “Are ye goin’t’beg my pardon? No?” Another sickening blow.
“Beg my pardon!”
THE voice was as harsh as the grate of a file. The fist was drawn back for another drive at the niddered, whimpering heap of humanity cowering on the locker. Smack! the fist shot out. Hanson fell back knocked out.
“I’ll fetch him around,” growled Roxton.
He reached for a dory-jar and emptied the contents over his victim’s bruised and bloody face.
“Hadn’t ye better let him be?” cried Winslow. “Ye’ve given him enough.” The other showed his teeth in a fierce smile.
“Oh, I won’t kill him, cap’en, but I ain’t through with him yet. This is the only joy I’ve known for days—aye, weeks, | an’ I c’d set to now an’ beat that face o’ his-n to a pulp. He’s cornin’ ’round.” Hanson raised himself slowly, while the other drew back his fist and repeated the insistent demand.
“Beg my pardon!”
“I beg your pardon!” muttered the panting heap, squatting on the seat.
“Down on your knees an’ say it!”
The Minnehaha's skipper hesitated. | Roxton’s fist smashed him again.
“Down on your knees!” 1
Crying like a child, the swarthy, cocksure, debonair Fred Hanson—devil of j a fellow and all as he was—flopped to his knees and repeated the apology under the most degrading of all conditions.
HANSON stretched out his hands.
“Winslow!” he said. “You ain’t got nawthin’ against me. Take my part an’ keep this thing quiet—I’ve never harmed you!”
The young skipper drew back.
“Th’ deuce you haven’t,” he cried. “Why, consarn ye, I wouldn’t be here now if it warn’t for you. Lord save me!
I feel like hammerin’ ye myself for th’ scurvy trick you played Clarence Dickey.
I had t’ leave for sea in a gale o’ wind an’ lost my mainm’st ’count o’ j ou—you an’ yer dodgin’, oily ways. How about th’ | contract ye signed with Clarence for yer j fish? Breakin’ it, ain’t ye? Selling to th’ I Bay Shore people for a quarter-cent more, an’ turnin’ down a man what has always treated you square! I’ tell you what I’ll do—” Hanson looked up hopefully. “What?”
“You get your hook up with th’ next tide for Anchorville an’ run that fish to Clarence Dickey an’ we’ll say nawthin’ about this night’s work; refuse an’ I’ll make it my business to queer you with every fisherman that ever hauled trawls on the Western Banks. I’ll tell ’em that ye ain’t th’ sand of a man, nor th’ soul of a man, an’ I’ll git Cap’en Roxton to back me up. What are ye goin’t’ do?”
“I’ll stand out with th’ next tide for Anchorville, an’ Dickey’ll get my trip.” They left him with a mutual feeling of I relief.
Clarence Dickey does not know j even to this day, how he got the Minnehaha's trip of fish. Nevertheless he was ¡ overjoyed to get it, especially when he I heard that the Isabel Winslow had lost her | mainmast in a gale and had to be towed j into Cobtown to procure a new one. It must have been a season of violent weather on the water, for the Minnehaha's skipper came in with his face bruised, through | being knocked down by a sea. Fishermen spun queer yarns about a Captain Roxton and a fight, but fishermen’s gossip is taken with a grain of salt.
Harry Winslow, skipper of the Isabel Winslow, jogging to dories on a fine winter’s day on Brown’s, could have said many things. But he had broken into a domestic tragedy and preferred keeping what he knew to himself.
“It was savage,” he would murmur, as he twirled the wheel, “but I really believe —yes, I am certain—I would ha’ done th’ same myself. I wonder how Roxton and his wife are gettin’ along?”