THE neatly-dressed and rather pretty stenographer rested from her type-writing and listened to the conversation between old John Lovell and Billy Spencer, skipper of the Boston fishing schooner Alfarata. She couldn’t help listening. Outside the glass-partitioned private office the dialogue was audible—too interestingly audible for Miss Comstock to carry on her work.
“Sail-carrying don’t pay the vessel owner!” Old Johnny was shouting in the fashion he had when excited. “Last trip you tore the jib to ribbons and split your fores’l. This time you’ve broke the main-boom and split the mains’l. You’re rim-racking a fine vessel with your sail-dragging—”
“Now, Mr. Lovell,” interrupted a soothing voice, “don’t take on so. Sure, if you’d ha’ been in my place and saw Jack Macpherson in the Allie Watson warming her home to Boston under four lowers and me jogging home easy-like under Bank sail, you’d have said: ‘Go to it and trim him!’ ”
“Hump!” a pause. “And did you trim him?” The anger had vanished from Old Johnny’s tones and there was interest in the question.
“Did we? Well, I sh’d smile!” the other continued. “ ‘Joggin’ to Boston this fine day?’ says he as he swings past my lee quarter.
“ ‘Yes—joggin’,’ says I—for I didn’t want to press her, Mr. Lovell. Then he comes back with—‘I cal’late you’re savin’ the Alfarata's canvas ’case old Johnny gets sore on ye bustin’ his sails. Mean as the devil, ain’t he?’ says he...."
“He said that, did he?” came Lovell’s growl.
“Yes, and a lot more, Mr. Lovell,” continued the Alfarata’s skipper. “Now, I wasn’t goin' to stand for that, you know, so I hauls the riding sail off her and gives her whole mains’l and jib. It was breezing some with a lumpish sea when I put it to her and ’long about five I had the Allie Watson half a mile astern and reefin’ his mains’l. That hooker sails well with a tuck in, as maybe you know, but I darsen’t stop to reef but kep’ a-coming. It blowed pow’ful hard that night and after we passed the Araminta Silver off Boston Lightship lying-to waiting ’til it eased up in the Bay, a squall hit us and the main-boom broke and the sail split....”
“What did you do then?” Johnny’s voice betokened deep interest.
“Had to take it in and sock her along under the riding sail. We made good going and arrived at the Fish Pier this morning at seven with a hundred and twenty thousand of cod and haddock—prime fish. It’s noon now and the Allie Watson ain’t in yet.”
THERE was a grunt of approval from the vessel owner and he remarked in a mollified tone: “Well, after hearing the facts of the case, I’ll admit you had good reason to press the Alfarata. Don’t take any sass from Jack Macpherson at any time. You’ll need a new boom and the mains’l can be repaired. I’ll see to that right away....”
“There’s a few other small items, Mr. Lovell,” came a gentle interposition from Captain Spencer. “Some pen-boards were washed out of the kid; the top of the wheel-box vanished somehow and the patent log broke adrift. The bait-boards disappeared during the night and the cover of the stays’l box is gone as well. There’s a deck tub missing and I ain’t sure but what the leach of the jib’s tore. A carpenter’ll soon fix up the glass what was broke in the cabin skylight and he can soon knock up a new cable-box...."
There came the grating sound of a chair being shoved back and the smack of a heavy fist on a desk. “Sufferin’ Judas Priest!” shouted Lovell wrathfully, “don’t tell me any more. I cal’late I’ll go right down and see if the vessel ain’t a hulk and all racked to pieces. Confound it, man, what d’ye think you’re a-doing? Racing for the Fisherman’s Cup?”
“Well, it blowed hard last night and there was some sea in the Bay,” came a calm voice in extenuation.
“Blowed hard be hanged!” snapped Old Johnny. “Since you’ve been in that schooner you’ve ripped and tore her all to pieces with your infernal sail-dragging. You always scare up an excuse to go racing with some joker and it takes all I make to square up your hell-bent-for-election damages. It’s fishin’ I want the Alfarata for—not racing. Get out before I eat you!”
The pretty stenographer bent to her typewriter again as a broad-shouldered, clean-looking young fellow of about twenty-eight came out of the private office. There was the dimple of a suppressed smile in his ruddy cheeks and the hint of almost boyish enjoyment in his bold grey eyes as he closed the door softly on the fuming occupant of the inner sanctum.
The young woman rose and delved into a mail-box. “A registered letter for you, Captain Spencer,” she said, handing it over. The young fellow gave the envelope a cursory glance and carelessly thrust the missive into the pocket of his blue flannel shirt. He took off his cap again and leaned across the counter. “And how’s every little thing with you, Miss?” he enquired somewhat bashfully speaking pleasingly with the dialect of Nova Scotia.
“Oh, same as usual, Captain,” answered the girl—placing a pile of accounts into a basket. “Pounding this machine all day and breathing the odor of fish from nine to five. My clothes seem to reek with it.”
“Awful smell to stick, ain’t it?” observed Captain Billy pleasantly.
“And it ain't Floridy Water neither. He—” the skipper indicated the private office with a jerk of his head, “—must be an awful feller at times, I cal’late, eh?”
THE girl laughed. “No, indeed,” she replied. “He’s very nice and very kind and patient. He never loses his temper with me.”
The other noted the accented “me” and grunted. “Ahem! I reckon you don’t give him any cause.” Spencer paused and looked rather intently at the young woman seated at the desk sorting papers. He had chatted with her a good many times between voyages now, and of late her face had often figured in his fancies. But casual conversations upon unimportant topics were unsatisfying and the more he saw of Miss Comstock the more his thoughts were disturbed. As he lounged over the counter regarding her, his keen eyes took in her trim figure, her soft brown hair and appealing features. Her brown eyes seemed to hold a teasing expression when she talked to him and he felt a sensation of pleasure, when she smiled and revealed her white teeth. He was fascinated by her fresh cheerfulness, her intelligence, and refined speech and often wondered and worried how he could get better acquainted.
The girl looked up from her work. “You’re fond of sailing fast, Captain Spencer,” she said teasingly. “I’ve got a number of accounts here for repairs to the Alfarata. None of Mr. Lovell’s other schooners seem to have the repair bills that you have.”
Billy smiled. “Aye, and none of the other skipper’s have the fun out of fishing that I have. I wouldn’t go a-fishing, if I didn’t have a bit of a hook with another vessel now and again."
She gave him a keen glance from under her eye-lashes and noted the humorous expression on his tanned face. Those bold grey eyes—-she was sure he was frightfully daring and reckless—appealed to her. Something spurred Spencer to action. His look met hers and he took heart. “Say, Miss Comstock,” he began hesitatingly, “I—I hope you won’t think I’m fresh. I—I don’t know any nice girls like you in this town and often-times I feel I’d like to have one for a pal to go around with when ashore. I’m a rough cuss, I know, and you’re a little lady, but—but, would you care to go out to a theatre with me tonight? I—I hope I ain’t fresh in asking you?”
THE stenographer turned away rather nonplussed. Certain family reasons decreed that she refuse the invitation but something was impelling her to accept. She had, for some time past, been compelled to avoid making acquaintances and to repress the age-old desire for the companionship of the other sex. And now an offer of intimate friendship was coming from a young fishing skipper. A cleanly, courteous and fine-looking fisherman, ’tis true....but, “What would her mother think of it?”
“How about it, Miss Comstock?” Billy was waiting eagerly for his answer. “I—I suppose it will be all right,” she stammered in confusion. “That is—I—It’s very kind of you—”
“Where do you live?” enquired the skipper instantly.
“Number twenty-four Walnut Avenue, Apartment ten—near Dudley Street.”
He wrote the address in his notebook and looked up with pleasure in his eyes. “I’ll be there at half-past seven sharp,” he said happily.
“Till then, good-bye—and thank you kindly.”
The young skipper passed down the stairs and on to the wharf leaving Miss Comstock a prey to conflicting emotions.
“Whatever made me do it?” she almost wailed. “Just because I was fascinated by his manner and his bold ways I fall for him like—like a cave-woman. I can imagine those fishermen’s tastes —a burlesque show where they smoke and eat pea-nuts between the acts. Horrors! What will mother say? If he’s like some of those other captains, he’ll come for me dressed in a loud suit and wearing a howling tie and he’ll have his vest pockets crammed with cigars and be smoking them all the time on the streets. There’ll be a huge box of candy—the biggest he can buy—and he’ll want to hold my hand after the first act—” She stopped at the thought of it and continued with grim determination. “If he isn’t all right when he calls, I’ll plead a head-ache and refuse to go with him!” And she turned to her work again with many misgivings.
BILLY SPENCER was at his boarding house and seeking advice from his friend Wesley Carson. Wesley was a Bostonian and as a city-dweller was supposed to know the ropes.
“I’ve asked a young lady to go out with me tonight, and I don’t want to make any breaks. What show will I take her to? What seats will I get? How’ll I dress? Should I take her out to a lunch afterwards? Will I call for her in an automobile? Will I.... ”
“Hold hard, Billy,” cried Carson with a laugh. “Who’s the lady anyway? One of those Atlantic Avenue dames that pal up with a trawler and his high-line roll? Or is it one of the Commonwealth Avenue society set? If it’s the former you want to leave your watch and your money at home and if it’s the latter, you’ll need a dress suit with a red tie and tan boots....”
“Quit your foolin’, you beach-comber!” growled Spencer, proceeding to divest himself of his sea clothes. “It’s little Miss Comstock down to Lovell’s office. ...”
Carson whistled. “Some speed to you!” he observed.
“That’s my middle name—Speed Spencer, they call me, and I want a little of it from you. Give me a true bill, old man. I don’t want to make a mug of myself or her.”
“And how did you manage it? Half the clerks on the Pier have tried to make a date with her and she turns ’em all down. Don’t go out with anybody but keeps to herself. But a mighty nice little girl too.” He paused and thought for a moment and continued. “Now, old-timer, you just leave yourself in my hands. I’ll get you orchestra seats at the Colonial. They’re playing ‘Brewster’s Millions’ there—which will show you how hard it is to spend money. Put on your blue serge suit and your black shoes....” And Spencer allowed his friend to rig him up and to furnish him with the “course and distance” as seamen say.
“Will I take her anything?” queried the skipper after the orthodox in dress and procedure had been prescribed for him.
“Yes—candy or flowers would be quite in order.”
“I’ll take flowers,” decided Spencer. “Get me some nice ones—roses, I cal’late.”
If Mabel Comstock felt nervous before Billy’s arrival, her apprehensions vanished when he entered the little Walnut Avenue apartment. Her mental picture of a bold-looking fisherman tricked out in garb as vari-colored as the International Code collapsed with the sight of the quietly-dressed and handsome young man whom she introduced to her mother.
“I didn’t think he would be so neat and nice,” she said to herself as she left the parlor to get her cloak. She buried her face in the exquisite bunch of American Beauty roses which he had brought her and voiced a hope that he wouldn’t spoil the evening or her good opinion by a lapse into any of the crudities or vulgarities—commonly, and often erroneously, ascribed to fishermen on shore excursions.
ATTIRED in a simple grey crepe-de-chine dress which Billy thought made her appear fascinatingly desirable, Miss Comstock slipped on her cloak and kissed her mother. “You won’t mind my leaving you for one night, mummy-dear?” she asked.,
“And I hope you won’t mind my asking your daughter to have a little lunch after the show if she cares to?” enquired Captain Billy with an apologetic smile which the mother liked. “It may keep her a little late....”
“That’ll be quite all right, Mr. Spencer,” answered Mrs. Comstock regarding her daughter with affection. “I’m so glad to see her go out. She’s been debarred from many pleasures of late and it’s very kind of you. You’ll take good care of her and I hope you’ll enjoy yourselves. I’ll see you when you come back.”
Spencer had to admit that he was nervous at first. It was an entirely new sensation for him to be nervous with a woman. He had met the sex before, many times, but they were not of Mabel Comstock’s type. He was glad now that his relations with women had always been above-board and that he had ever cherished an ideal in those matters. “I’m an awful bear, Miss Comstock,”he observed with characteristic frankness, “and I ain’t used to city ways. I hope you’ll forgive me if I make any breaks and jest steer me right when I’m heading wrong...”
The girl laughed happily. She liked his boyish candor and felt a certain sense of pride in having this strapping, virile young sailor placing dependence in her. She had heard fishermen’s gossip of his daring and fearlessness. There was also a story of how he tried to ram a German submarine off the Irish coast in a three-mast schooner...and other things. This fisherman admitted his short-comings in shore ways. Many men would have bluffed and concealed their ignorance. She admired him.
They thoroughly enjoyed the play. “Jupiter! I’d like to do this sort of thing every night,” Spencer murmured to himself. “Tonight, I’m here enjoyin’ myself in a decent kind of way. Tomorrow this time, we’ll be well off-shore soakin’ the Alfarata for Brown’s Bank and breathin’ coal-gas and bilge. If I was rich I’d never go near the sea or a vessel.”
AT THE after-theatre restaurant there were sweet-scented flowers on the table and a string orchestra was playing dreamy selections. Mabel Comstock, with face and eyes glowing under the shaded lights, looked fascinatingly beautiful and she was asking him questions about himself. He, delighted at her interest, was talking freely.
“Aye, Miss, I was born on a farm up in N ova Scotia, but I never knew much of a home other than a vessel. Mother died afore I really knew her and father married again—a widow with a family—and me and my brother Jim had a hard time with her. I can’t remember much of Jim. He was a big feller of seventeen when I was about four or five and he skipped out and went to sea. We never h’ard of him again and I reckon he was drowned.
“I was beat around ontil I was eleven when I followed Jim’s lead and ran away to sea on a coaster helpin’ the cook. Then I went off as a boy on a salt Bank fisherman and when I was seventeen I went off to see a bit of the world before the mast on a square-rigger. I came back from deep-water and fished out of Glo’ster ontil I was twenty-two. Then I spoke for command of a vessel and got the Annie Wells. We made some good trips in her but I lost her in the big winter’s breeze four years ago. I sure though’ I was done for then as I kinder lost her foolishly by drivin in on the land when I sh’d ha’ laid her head off-shore and took the breeze hove-to. However, I got my nerve together and when I got back to Glo’ster I asked her owner to give me another vessel. I cal’late he was took by my gall for he gave me the Jennie Westmacott. We made some good trips in her, but she was an old tooth-pick and after she fell apart goin’ out of Rockland one winter, I shipped as mate of a three-master running the War Zone to France. I planned to do something over there, but got sent home...."
“For what?” the girl showed her intense interest.
“A busted leg. Piece of shrapnel from a German submarine what sunk the schooner off Ireland. Then I came to Boston and Johnny Lovell gave me the Alfarata. I’m still in her...."
“And from what I heard this morning, Captain Spencer,” interrupted the girl with a laugh, “you’re doing your best to lose her too.”
Spencer grinned. “Lovell was sure mad, but he doesn’t really mind it. He kicks a lot at the damage but you should hear him braggin’ around the Pier. Now, don’t let me cram you with all this yam about myself and my business. I’d like to know about you. Your father—is he alive?”
A shadow seemed to cross the girl’s face and she crushed her serviette nervously. “No-no!” she answered falteringly and her eyes avoided his direct gaze.
“Is there jest you and your mother? No other brothers or sisters?”
“Only us two.”
The skipper sipped his coffee and remarked wistfully, “You’re lucky to have a mother. Fathers ain’t so hard to do without least that’s my notion—but a mother.... Golly! I wish I had one. I cal’late we’d have a great time together.”
The expression on his face when he spoke awakened a feeling of sympathy in Miss Comstock’s heart. A man who longed thus for a mother was all right. She was glad that she had accepted Spencer’s invitation and hoped that the friendship thus commenced would continue. She mentally accented the word friendship—at the present time she could not consider any other basis of acquaintance.
Billy drove her home in a taxi and felt deliriously happy. At the door of her little apartment he was about to take his departure when the girl, glancing at her wrist watch, said: “It’s early yet, Captain. Won’t you come in for a few minutes and say good-night to Mother?” After a momentary hesitation Billy decided it would be quite correct. Besides, he was head over heels in love, and was anxious to see as much of Mabel Comstock as possible ere he sailed for the Banks.
They had entered very quietly and the roar of a passing Elevated train had drowned the sound of their voices. Leading the way to the dining-room, Miss Comstock was about to greet her mother when she stopped suddenly at the door of the room with features bloodless and fearful. The Elevated train had passed and Spencer heard a man’s voice speaking in the room. “For God’s sake, Mary, think of something,” the stranger was saying. “I’ve got to get out of the country....”
The girl reeled against the door frame and Spencer grabbed her and kept her from falling. He saw Mrs. Comstock staring at them, terror in her eyes, while behind her stood a roughly-dressed, bearded man of about forty-five. The latter’s face expressed several emotions—apprehension and nervous expectancy predominating and the skipper glanced around the three uncomprehending. What—what the deuce is the matter?” he stammered in perplexity.
MISS COMSTOCK recovered herself and stood for a moment dumbly looking at her mother and the stranger. Her face was still white and her brown eyes were wide with alarm.
“How—how did you get here? she enquired faintly—addressing the man with the beard.
The man looked flustered. “I-I just got in a few minutes ago, Mabel,” he said hesitatingly. “Rather unexpected.... I—I’m afraid I scared you, dear. I—I couldn’t help it.”
The color came back to the girl’s face and her features registered a conflict of feelings. Then yielding to a sudden impulse, she ran to the man and threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, Daddy, Daddy!” she cried in an anxious voice. “Is it all right now? Are you coming back to us again?” The man kissed her with affection; and the nervous tensity of his expression relaxed for a space.
Spencer was dumbfounded. “Daddy!” she had called him! And but an hour ago she had told him that her father was dead. He was standing as in a daze when the stranger glanced over at Spencer and alarm showed in his eyes. “Who is that man?” he whispered in some agitation. “Can we trust him? Could he help me? I must do something quickly? They may be on my track even now.” He withdrew his arm from Mabel’s shoulders and picked up some money from the table. Mrs. Comstock slipped her arms around his neck and she was crying. Mabel walked over to where the skipper stood—-her eyes mutely imploring—and she spoke tremblingly.
“Captain Spencer! I know I can trust you. This is my father. I lied to you this evening because—because—my father was in State’s Prison. He has escaped.... What shall we—what can we do?” There were tears in her eyes and a piteous appeal in her voice.
“This is a devil of a note,” Billy was thinking and an over-powering wave of sympathy flooded his heart. “What does he—your father—suggest? What does he want to do?” he stammered.
The man had a pleasant, good-looking face, but it was lined and care-worn. He spoke nervously and cast restless eyes about the apartment, and he appeared to be listening for something.
“I made my get-away three months ago and have been doubling around to get here to see them. Just got in from Florida—firing on a steamer. Can’t stay here, but if I could get across to Mexico or Canada I might get a chance to straighten things out.” The man seemed to hang on Billy’s answer.
“Mexico or Canada?” repeated the skipper. “I don’t know about Mexico, but I might get you into Canada.” He thought for a moment while the others focussed him with their gaze. “Let him come along with me,” he said at length with the quick decision of the vessel-master. “I’ll go to my room, get my kit, and go down aboard the vessel. He can sail with me to the Banks and I’ll arrange to land him somewheres on the Canadian coast. How’s that?”
MOTHER and daughter flashed him looks of hope and thankfulness and the father seemed relieved at the suggestion. “We must go now,” said Comstock hastily. “Every minute here is dangerous. I’ll find a way to let you know where I am, and Mary—Mabel—believe in me. I didn’t do it. It was the other man. They made me the scape-goat for the gang.” Turning to Spencer, he said, “Captain! You’d better leave right now and I will meet you on Atlantic Avenue. I’ll slip down the fire escape....”
The young fisherman was out on the street before he knew it and making for his boarding-house with long strides. Pictured indelibly on his memory was the look of unspoken gratitude expressed in Mabel’s brown eyes when she accompanied him to the door. She had squeezed his hand warmly and her last words—“I can’t thank you. Look after him.... and God bless you!”—rang in his ears.
“Deuce of a note, this business,” he murmured as he swung along “Fancy, her old man a convict! Ain’t that the devil and all? And I’m lettin’ myself in for somethin’ too, by jingo! Wonder what he was jugged for? Don’t look like a crim’nal.... Deuce of a note, by gum, but I reckon she’s worth doin’ it for. Yes, and I’d promise any blame’ kind o’ foolishness for her sake, so I would!” And in the midst of his perplexities he smiled happily.
SPENCER met Comstock at the appointed place. He was wearing his sea clothes and had mapped out a plan of campaign.
“You’re an old friend of mine,” he coached the bearded man, “and you’ve been sick with the ’flu. You’re takin’ a little trip to the Banks to pick up your health. Your name is Tom Brown, remember—Tom Brown of Boston. What was your job afore you were—er—jugged?”
“I was a chemist in a large manufacturing concern.”
“You’ll need to be careful how you talk aboard a fisherman. The boys are terrors to gossip and if it got known that a chemist went to sea with me, the police might pick it up. What other job can you talk about that won’t give you away?”
Comstock thought for a moment. “I’ve been on railroad survey work and mining....”
"No mining,” said Billy decisively. “If the gang thought you was a miner they’d immediately think of gold, silver and diamonds and be wantin’ to know all about mining to see if there was more money in it than goin’ afishin.’ They’d be pumpin’ you all day long. I reckon you’d better be a rail-road man—a track boss. Shovellin’ dirt ain’t likely to appeal to a fisherman and they won’t ask you many questions on that kind of work. That’s the story for the present. Now, I’ll roust into this Jew outfitter and buy you a few clothes. You wait here.”
It was after midnight when Billy and Comstock jumped down aboard the Alfarata. The fish was out, ice and stores aboard, and the new boom was in the saddle with the sail laced to it. Spencer noted these facts with pleasure. He led the way down into the schooner’s cabin where three isherman sat playing cards on the lockers. They looked up when the skipper entered and favored Comstock with curious glances.
“A friend of mine—Tom Brown,” vouchsafed Billy. “He’s been sick with the ’flu and ain’t able to go back to work yet awhile. He’s acomin’ with us as a bit of a holiday.”
He turned to Comstock. “There’s a spare bunk over to starb’d there, Tom. Jest chuck your dunnage in there and make yourself to home. We don’t stand on ceremony on a fisherman. Eat and sleep whenever you have a mind to and don’t wait to be introduced.”
“Th’ ’flu’s a mighty weakenin’ thing, ain’t it, Mister?” observed one of the men, addressing Comstock. “And a little trip like this’ll fix ye up good.” Mr. “Tom Brown” was soon engaged in pleasant conversation and endeavouring to act the part of a convalescent.
“Are all the boys aboard?” asked Spencer.
“All but Alec MacDonald, I guess, and he jest went up the head of the wharf.”
“Half shot I s’pose?” growled the other. He went over and tapped the barometer and the needle prophesied fair weather. With Comstock aboard Billy wanted to get away to sea immediately and he mentally cursed Alec MacDonald for his nocturnal ramblings. He looked up the cabin hatch and noted that the wind was fresh and westerly—a good night for a shove-off. “We’ll get underway, I reckon, and take advantage of this fine breeze,” he said.“Call the crowd and get yer mains’l up.”
The Alfarata’s gang were used to their skipper’s whims. Spencer was no time-waster. He made quick trips and good money for his men and “Speedy” Spencer was almost a proverb on the Banks. To Comstock, he said meaningly, “Better turn in, Tom. You might not get much sleep if it’s rough outside and you must remember you ain’t a well man. Rest is what you need.”
The crowd had the mains’l up and the stops were off fores’l and jumbo when MacDonald staggered down the wharf accompanied by another man. They stood on the edge of the Pier talking and Spencer could hear the stranger asking questions—odd questions, and Billy was apprehensive.
“Come aboard now, Alec!” bawled the skipper quickly. “We can’t wait all night for you!”
The other held MacDonald by the arm detaining him. “Who’s that?” he said.
"Thash th’ skipper,” replied the fisherman. “Thash ol’ Shpeedy Shpensher. Great feller’s Sheedy Pensher. I mush go, ol’ feller, mush go!”
“Carrying any passengers this trip?” Billy heard the query and trembled.
“Away ye go’n yer fores’l!” he bawled. “Leggo for’ad! Come aboard you Mac, or I’ll leave you!”
McDonald endeavoured to shake off the other’s detaining hand. “Any strangers going out with you this time?” The man’s voice was insistent.
The foresail was going up and the schooner’s bow was sheering off from the wharf and Billy was slacking off the stern line—the bight of which was around a spile. “Let my man go, you wharf-rat!” roared Spencer excitedly. “D’ye want him to miss the vessel?”
“Yesh, you bum, lemme go!” protested Mac as he endeavoured to break away.
“Any passengers or strangers....” The foresail was up and the jumbo was screeching on the fore-stay. The schooner was moving away from the wharf when Spencer leaped up on the dock, gave the stranger a tremendous buffet on the side of the head which knocked him flat on his back, and almost hove MacDonald down on the Alfarata’s deck. Then he leaped the intervening six feet between wharf and rail and spun the wheel over. The Alfarata's main-boom swung off as Billy deftly cast the sheet off the bitts and he glanced back in the darkness to see the man he had struck rising to his feet and brushing the mud off his clothes.
“A ruddy ’tec, I’ll swear!” gasped Billy to himself. “Must have traced Comstock down here.” Of the reeling MacDonald, he enquired sharply, “Where did you pick that feller up, and what did he want?”
The fisherman commenced a rambling story of how he had met the stranger at the head of the dock and how he had commenced asking him a lot of questions as to whether the skipper was aboard and if he had a friend with him. “I told th’ swab that you was aboard and that you had no friends with you. ’N even if you had a friend with you it was none of his ruddy bushiness.”
WHEN clear of the dock, Spencer ordered the light sails set and he steered the schooner down the harbor himself. Comstock, in his bunk, knew nothing of the episode on the dock, as, completely tired out, he had fallen asleep a few minutes after turning in, and when he awoke at five, it was to hear the rush of water outside the schooner’s planking and Spencer’s voice singing out: “Aft here, fellers, and sheet in yer mains’l!”
With a sigh of profound relief the man lay with eyes closed while his nerves, keyed to high tension with the fear of detection and arrest, relaxed gratefully and the harsh lines of strain and worry faded from his bearded face. He had lived an eternity in the last three months and as he lay calmly reflecting, he shivered involuntarily at the memory of the two years he had served in prison; his breakaway from the labor gang in the early morning mist and the whine of the guards’ bullets. Then came the riding of freight trains, tramping the roads, begging and working at odd jobs, but always moving on. Three months of anxious freedom and he was in Fernandina when an overwhelming desire to see his wife and daughter possessed him and he came to Boston as coal-trimmer in a tramp steamer. He had seen them and.... “God! If I could only prove it and be cleared,” he murmured fearfully. “But I can’t—I can’t. Ten years! I couldn’ stick it out. But let me get to Canada and I’ll have a chance to start a new life and get my people with me.... out in the West where they don’t ask questions.”
Spencer gave him a hail at seven. “Breakfast, Tom! We’re forty mile outside now and runnin’ to the east-’ard like a hound. A day like this’ll shake the last ’flu germ out of you. Come along for’ad and get some grub inside.
The Alfarata, under all sail, was logging nine knots and riding easily over the swells. Comstock glanced around the sun-lit waters and aloft at the white canvas, and to Spencer he said softly, “Man, but it’s wonderful; it’s great to be out here—free and away from the dread of a hand on your shoulder.... you know what I mean.” He straightened up and drew the keen sea air into his lungs and favored Billy with an almost affectionate scrutiny. “I don’t know how I—we Comstocks—can thank you for what you’ve done. If I can make it and get clear, I’ll be in your debt for life.”
They reached the Bank in twenty-eight hours and prepared for fishing. Comstock, acting the part of a convalescent, lolled around the deck. “Don’t you lay a hand to a thing,” warned Spencer. “You’re a pretty husky lookin’ feller to have gotten over a dose of ’flu and if you go pullin’ and haulin’ around, the boys’ll smell a rat.”
DURING the long summer days the dories went over the side at daybreak and the fishermen set and hauled their trawls until sun-down. Billy Spencer was as hard a fisherman as he was a vessel driver and he kept himself and all hands busy until after they had dressed the fish of an evening and stowed them in crushed ice below. While he was running the schooner around the Bank, keeping track of dories and fish, he was doing some tall thinking as to how he would land his passenger on the Canadian coast without awakening the suspicions of the men. The incident on the dock at Boston was disturbing him greatly.
“It ain’t as easy as it looks,” he confided to Comstock. “You’ve got to dodge the immigration people and I’ve got to have an excuse for running in.”
Then, noticing the worried expression on the other’s face he added hastily, “But don’t you worry, there’s more ways of armin’ a lead than by usin’ soap. I’ll ship you ashore all serene and you’ll have no difficulty in getting out to Western Canada. You make for Halifax or Saint John and you can easy get to Montreal and the West if you have the price.” They talked over ways and means and had decided on a plan to land Comstock near Yarmouth, when events took a new and unforeseen turn.
They were on the eastern edge of the Bank when a square rigger hove into their range of vision. Square riggers, tho’ not common nowadays, call for no unusual comment from fishermen, but this one attracted Spencer’s attention by the way she acted. The weather was fine with a fresh breeze and the sailing ship should have been hull-down and out of sight within a few hours. But they raised her upper sails in the flush of the dawn and she was in sight throughout the day. At sun-down she appeared to be hove-to. Next morning, day-light revealed her close aboard and standing towards the Alfarata. The fishermen were just through with breakfast and getting ready to swing the dories over and they knocked off to watch the stranger with many surmises.
The ship—a finely modelled three-master with double topgallant sails on fore and main—came rolling toward them under reduced sail. When within a cable’s length of the fishing schooner, her mainyards were swung aback and she lay hove to while two signal flags ran up to her mizen-gaff.
“A two flag hoist,” ejaculated Spencer. “Urgent signal. Looks like N.C. ‘In distress’ if I remember rightly.” He sung out to the wondering fishermen: “Swing a dory over, boys, and see what he wants.”
Dories from port and starboard nests were swung up and out, and as they splashed into the sea, curiosity-impelled men leaped over the rail into them. “Hold on there!” bawled the skipper. “No need for all hands to go. He ain’t inviting you aboard to have a drink, I cal’late. You, John Watson, and you, Tom Westhaver, go and see what he wants and don’t be all day about it.” As an after-thought, he turned to Comstock. “Go over with them, Tom, if you like. She looks a foreigner of some kind and maybe you can bring me back a straighter message than our fellows.” The other hesitated for a moment as though dreading the venture, then he laughed and slid over the side into the waiting dory.
WITHIN thirty minutes they were pulling back. As soon as the dory came alongside the schooner, Comstock, with surprising agility for a supposed convalescent, sprang over the rail and approached Spencer. In his eyes there were signs of suppressed agitation. Aloud he said: “They say their captain and mate were washed overboard in a storm and they want someone to navigate the ship into New York....” He gripped Billy by the arm and drew him away from the surrounding fishermen. The skipper winced under Comstock’s fingers—the man was laboring under high excitement and he whispered hoarsely, “....and Jimmy the Red's aboard her."
“Jimmy the who?” ejaculated Spencer wonderingly and Comstock’s squeezing fingers on his arm checked his further utterance.
“For Heaven’s sake, Spencer, come below a minute,” urged the other compellingly. “Get away from these listening men and I’ll tell you something.”
The skipper clattered down into the cabin followed by Comstock. “What the devil’s the matter?” asked Billy softly. “You look as if you’d seen a ghost. ...”
Comstock was terribly wrought up and trembled visibly. Spencer was alarmed at the man’s excitement. “Not a ghost, Spencer,” replied the other in a portentous voice, “but the one man in all this wide world that I must get the hold of! The man who was the cause of my imprisonment! The man who threw me to the wolves......”
“Where? Who is he? Quick, man!”
“Aboard that ship over there! He’s among the crew. I saw him—talked with him—James Kowalsky—Jimmy the Red—and the man who did the job I was railroaded into the penitentiary for!”
“The devil ye say!”
Comstock continued in a rapid whisper and the perspiration of agitation moistened his forehead. “I was given ten years’ hard labor for a bombing affair. I was accused and convicted of blowing up the plant of the Plenzer Iron Works in Delancey, Pennsylvania, I was, to my eternal regret, mixing around with a crowd of so-called Socialists and I.W.W.’s at the time, and while I knew of the plans for destroying the Plenzer plant, yet I honestly had no hand in it. This Kowalsky the man aboard that ship there—was the one who actually did the job and he managed to throw the blame on me. He was never suspected. I was sentenced.” He paused and wiped his face.
“Well,” said Spencer slowly, "what can we do about it? D’ye want me to get the gang and drag him off that hooker?”
“No, that would never do,” answered Comstock a trifle more composed.
“Kowalsky can’t be handled that way. I can only suggest one thing just at present, and that is for you to go aboard that ship and navigate her into port. I'll go with you and make sure that Kowalsky doesn’t get away.
I'll find a way to make him confess to that Plenzer affair...."
THE other’s face was expressionless and Comstock noted it and endeavoured to imbue him with the importance of the matter. “I have this chance, Spencer, and I must keep my eye on him. Boy, but you don’t know— you can’t realize—what I’ve suffered and how I’m hungering to join my wife and daughter as an honest man and a free man. It's a terrible thing—a horrible thing—to be deprived of your liberty; to know that the law requires ten years of your life. And it’s worse to be like I am now—an escaped convict—flying from the law and always living in fear of detection. There is the hand of God in this thing, Spencer. He’s giving me a chance to prove my innocence. You’ve done a tremendous lot for me already, Spencer, help me now and I’ll make it up to you in some way.” He waited in an agony of suspense for the young skipper’s decision.
“All right! I’ll go!” said Billy at last. The intense supplication in the man’s voice and face impressed him and the thought of doing something for Mabel Comstock urged him to tackle the job. One of the boys, Juddy Moore, could take the Alfarata home to Boston and explain things to Johnny Lovell. He would navigate the ship to Boston and arrive there in time to take the Alfarata out again.
Spencer threw some necessary articles of clothing into a bag and secured his sextant, his Nautical Tables and Almanac. “We’ll skip along now,” he said. “Got your duds, Brown? Good!” Comstock led the way up on deck while Spencer gave a final look around. “Lemme see!” he murmured. “Have I got my pipe and tobacco?” He made a hasty survey of his pockets and when thrusting his hand into that of his flannel shirt he felt the crackle of paper therein. He was about to go ahead when recollection came to him. “Gorry! That must be the letter Miss Comstock gave me in Lovell’s office and I ain’t opened it yet. M’m! Must be in love, I cal’late, to be so forgetful.”
He hastily tore it open and read the type-written contents. “Sufferin’ Codfish!” he ejaculated in amazement as he slumped down on a locker to read the missive again.
“Dear Sir,” it ran—“We have reason to believe that you are the only surviving brother of the late James Winslow Spencer who died in Seattle, Wash., on August 9th, 19—.
“Mr. Spencer, who was a resident of Victoria, B.C. left a considerable amount of property and, under the terms of his will, this is to be divided among certain charities one year exactly from the hour and date of his demise provided no claim was made by his brother William Ainslie Spencer. The late James Spencer was a rather peculiar man, unmarried, and extremely reticent as to his family and connections. He boasted that he had no relations and didn’t want any. He died suddenly and a search through his personal papers failed to reveal anything regarding him, his birthplace or from whence he came.
“The writer was somewhat intimate with him and we took this matter up on the chance that an heir might be found. We traced the late Mr. Spencer’s career back to where he shipped as a seaman from New York to San Francisco on an American bark. On her articles he signed as hailing from Anchorville, Nova Scotia. Enquiries made by us there elicited the information that you were his only brother.
“The object of the present is to urge you to come out to Victoria immediately—bringing such identification records as you may have. It will be necessary for you to be at our office before August 9th, otherwise the estate of your brother will go to the charities mentioned if no claim is made before noon of that date.
“We will be obliged if you will wire us immediately on receipt of this letter and trusting that our interest will have found favor with you, we remain, yours very truly,
“McGRAW, HISCOCK & DELORO, “Barristers & Notaries, Victoria, B.C.”
SUFFERIN’ Codfish!” he reiterated—his wits knocked galley-west. “August ninth—and this is August second! If I was to slam the Alfarata for Boston right away, I’d make it easy, but on that big clumsy bally-hoo to wind’ard there....?” He paused in disturbed and tantalizing hesitancy and thought of Comstock, “Jimmy the Red,” and Mabel. “Lord Harry! What sh’d I do?” he asked himself in considerable mental disquietude. It was.indeed a momentous problem and it seemed as though Fate were placing the two alternatives before him and saying: “Choose!” Comstock, impatiently waiting and absorbed with his own affairs, little knew of the tremendous struggle which was taking place in Spencer’s mind.
“If I got that money I’d be fixed for life and could get away from this drudgery and I c’d maybe corral Mabel at the same time. But then her Dad would still be a wanted man and she’d never be happy. On the other hand, I might go on that wind-bag on the chance of squeezin’ the truth out of that Kowalsky joker, and Comstock may have made a mistake and it mayn’t be the man after all. I’d lose everything then.” He paused and reflected. “He seemed pretty certain,” he murmured, “and I’d like to see that shadow lifted from him and her—Gorry! I wish I knew what was best.”
He drew a coin from his pocket. “Heads—I go on the wind-bag. Tails—I slam the Alfarata for Boston and hike for the property!”
He tossed the coin up and it came down—tails! A vision of Mable Comstock’s appealing face rose before his eyes and her last words rang in his ears, “Look after him... and God bless you!”
With a new-found determination pictured on his bronzed face, Billy thrust the letter into his pocket again and took a fresh grip of his gear. He threw the coin into the stove saying whimsically: “You’re a dam’ liar, Mister Penny. I ain’t agoin’ to do what you think. For her sake, by Godfrey, I’ll do the other thing and take a chance!” Twenty minutes later, he and Comstock clambered up the Jacob’s Ladder of the full-rigged ship Gregory of Riga.
A RED-HAIRED man of medium height and sinewy build met them at the rail. He had a colorless face with high cheek-bones and prominent jaw—the muscles of which bulged visibly—and his mouth reposed in a determined line. He was of that “sandy-complexioned” type upon which one scarce bestows a second glance, and his age would be anywhere between thirty-five and forty-five. “My name is Smith,” he volunteered glibly. “I’m the stooard of this ship. The captain and mate were washed over the side by a sea that boarded the poop four days ago and our second mate don’t understand navigation...."
Spencer’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Four days ago? he exclaimed. “Whereabouts were you then?”
The red-haired steward waved his hand vaguely. “Somewhere’s to the east’ard, sir. We’re bound from Glasgow to New York, sir.”
Spencer thought it strange. For the past ten days, Atlantic weather had been smooth and summery with light southerly and westerly winds. There was neither swell nor cloud to evidence any such weather as would poop a big ship like the Gregory. Billy looked hard at the man and instantly became aware that he was not the nonentity he appeared at first glance. The putty-like face was enlivened by close-set eyes of an indescribable hue. Like the man’s complexion, they were tawny and cat-like and the pupils appeared to contract and expand with the fellow’s emotions. The skipper noticed that they were contracted now and this peculiarity commanded Spencer’s notice.
“Yes, sir, it was very strange,” the steward continued—his face stolid but the eyes narrowed to pin-points pupils. He spoke calmly as though he had sensed the doubt in the other’s mind. “Breeze and sea came up all of a suddenlike under a cloudless sky. The wave that boarded her, sir, had all the appearance of a tidal wave—a most extraordinary comber. After sweeping the poop, the wind fell flat and it was all over within an hour. A submarine earthquake possibly, sir.” His speech was that of an educated man in spite of lapses into ship-board idioms. His explanation sounded plausible and he continued. "And who may be addressing, sir, if I may ask? ”
“My name is Spencer,” replied Billy. “I’m skipper of that fishing schooner over there and I’ll take your ship into Boston. I can’t take her to New York as I want to join my vessel again as soon as possible.” He turned and indicated Comstock. “This is my mate, Mr. Brown.”
THE steward favored Mr. “Brown” with a searching glance. For a passing moment it seemed as though a startled expression showed in his shifting eyes. The pupils seemed to be absorbed in the tawny iris for a second; then they regained their normal appearance again and his face became void of emotion. “Boston will do just as well, sir,” he said. “We can get other officers there. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the chart-room.”
When Smith, carrying their bundles, clambered up the poop ladder, Spencer allowed his glance to rove around the ship. The crew—the usual crowd of variously-garbed nondescripts—were gathered in a mob to one side of the deck, while two men stood on top of an after deck-house and seemed to be watching the others furtively. The crowd at the rail were strangely silent and there appeared to be an air of sullen indifference in their attitudes and expressions. One man, clad in a soldier’s khaki tunic, appeared to be eyeing those on top of the deck-house in passive resentment.
An owl-faced fellow with typical Slavonic features was pacing the poop and the steward called him over. “Captain Spencer,” said Smith. “This is Kimeneff—the second mate. He speaks a little English—enough to understand and give orders—but he can’t navigate.”
The officer smiled and raised his hat to Spencer’s nod, and the latter passed on and entered the chart-room. A chart was spread out on the table and Billy scrutinized it while Comstock and Smith stood outside.
“What’s yer cargo, Mister?” asked Comstock giving his words a “Down-east” twang. The steward looked at him sharply. “Case oil, sir,” he replied.
“She’s a Russian, ain’t she?” questioned the other, and added, “Ain’t a Bolsheviki Russian, is she?”
The steward laughed—a metallic cackle which grated on the ear.
“Hardly, sir. She’s one of the Republican side—the anti-Bolshevik—with no home port. She hasn’t been in Riga since the Revolution. Her owners are living in France, I believe. Our unfortunate captain was part owner of the ship....” He paused and called to the second mate. “Vassili Ivanovitch!”—addressing him in the Russian manner.... “Tell those fellows on the house there that the stays’l is alright now. They’re only loafing.” Comstock, watching him furtively, noticed the meaning glint in his eyes when he spoke.
He turned and smiled. “Though I’m the steward of this ship, yet I’ve practically had to take charge of her since the officers went. Kimeneff is a clod—a stupid ass!"
Spencer had been doing some figuring on the chart and he looked up. “Does the crew understand English? Are they all Russians?” he asked.
“Most understand English, sir,” replied the steward. “They’re all nationalities, but English is the ship’s language.”
Billy walked aft to the steering compass. A man was at the wheel lolling over the spokes. “Let ’er go West b’ North when I get her braced around,” he said and the man promptly reiterated, “Vest by Nort sir, ven she’s braced around!” in an accent betraying the Scandinavian. Striding to the poop-beak, Spencer sung out for the bo’sun and one of the men who had been standing on top of the deck-house came aft.
“Swing yer main-ards and take a pull on yer lee braces. We’ll brace her up on the port tack. And, bo’sun, get some more sail on her. You can give her t’gan’s’ls and royals and the mizzen and maintopm’st stays’ls.”
The steward vanished below and Billy spoke to the lumbering Kimeneff. “I jest told the bo’sun to brace her up on the port tack and to set more sail. You’d better tend to the weather braces and see the sails set.”
“Yaas, I do so, sir,” replied the Russian and he clattered down the ladder to the main-deck.
WHEN he had gone, Spencer turned with studied carelessness to Comstock and asked quietly; “Are you sure of your man? Did he recognize you, d’ye think? It’s that there stoo’ard, ain’t it?”
“I’m dead sure,” replied the other in a vehement undertone. “It’s that red-headed steward and he doesn’t know me. He didn’t see much of me anyhow and I’ve grown this beard and got much thinner.”
Billy lit up a cigarette, blew a puff of smoke, and a puzzled expression crossed his features. “D’ye know, Brown; there’s something darn fishy about this hooker.” He paused and indicated the men working at the fore-braces with a jerk of his head. “Those fellers for’ad are pullin’ without singin’ out. That’s a bad sign on a wind-jammer. When men don’t chanty or sing out there’s something wrong. They’re sulky and sore about something. Then again, Brown, your friend the stoo’ard is lying. There ain’t been any breeze around these parts that ’ud kick up sea enough to poop a ship like this and wash skipper and mate over the side. That’s pure bunk—tidal wave, submarine earthquake and all. Another darned queer thing! I h’ard that Smith tell you that she’d a cargo of case oil. They don’t carry case oil from Glasgow to New York, but they might carry it from New York to Glasgow.
“Then what do you think?” asked Comstock with some concern.
“I don’t believe she’s from Glasgow at all. She’s from an American port and not long out by the clean hull on her. And furthermore, I believe that stoo’ard’s a proper ruddy villain and he’s shoved the skipper and mate over the side and seized the ship. Jest look at some o’ them fellers for’ad there! D’ye notice how some of them are kinder proddin’ the others? That crowd ain’t working with a will! They’re being bullied or I don’t know the signs. That bo’sun there and them three at the fore t’gallant braces—proper bloody toughs by the hard-bitten mugs on them? Your pal, Jimmy the Red, is evidently tryin’ his hand at some other deviltry and we’d better be on our guard. I wish I’d told the Alfarata to keep handy to us runnin’ in.”
He glanced around the sea-line to where the schooner’s sails made two faint saw-tooths on the horizon, and continued, “Have you any plans in regard to yer red-topped friend?”
The other shook his head. “Not yet,” he admitted. “I’ve got to wait my chance now and see how things shape up. What you’ve told me about things on this ship makes it very difficult to plan anything. We’re only two against goodness knows how many. And he’s a dangerous devil, a very, very dangerous man. He’s no fool or half-baked schemer, but a man of profound education in a certain way—absolutely unscrupulous, determined, and as devilish as a rattle-snake. He’s a radical of the radicals, a Red, a Bolshevik, and he’s been the prime mover in all kinds of outrages and disturbances. And they have never caught him. He’s too clever.”
SPENCER looked at the other curiously. “How did you get mixed up with him, might I ask?”
Comstock gave an apparently careless glance around and spoke softly.
“I was a chemist in the employ of the Plenzer Iron Works at Delancey, Pennsylvania, and during a spell of labor troubles I got infected with the Socialism germ. I attended meetings of the workers and listened to the oratory of Socialists, O.B. U’s, I.W.W’s, and so on and I was interested in the Utopian theories advanced. I studied Karl Marx and the writings of others and became somewhat fascinated by their ideas. I would have been nothing more than a dilettante at Socialism were it not for the high-handed manner in which the Plenzer people tried to break the Unions and the rotten tricks they played. I knew of these things and my sympathies were with the workers.
“I was a Moderate at first, but when Plenzer’s dismissed me suddenly for my beliefs, I became almost a radical and fraternized with a violent crowd. I was introduced into the inner circles and saw this man Kowalsky at a secret meeting when it was proposed to blow up the Plenzer plant. I had become so angry at their treatment of their employees that I made no opposition to the plan. Then Kowalsky did the job, but he did it in such a manner as to incriminate me. I was properly framed up and given ten years hard labor....” He stopped as the crew came up on the poop to man the main-braces and set the mizzen sails. Spencer glanced at the canvas on the main and turned to see the steward talking to the man at the wheel. He had come up the after companion. He gave a furtive look to where Comstock and Spencer stood and then came respectfully forward—treading the planks with almost feline pacings.
“Breakfast is on the table, sir,” he said, addressing the skipper. Spencer laughed. “We had breakfast about five, but I cal’late we kin eat again. How about it, Brown?”
“Lead me to it, Cap! Lead me to it! Reckon I never refuse grub at any time.” Smith gave an odd smile and went below.
The Russian second mate came up on the poop and Billy addressed him. “West b’ North, Mister, and don’t let her go any to the nor’ad.” The man repeated the course and the others went down into the saloon.
The steward sent the food to the table by a gawky, sallow-faced English lad and the two men ate silently. Both were thinking, planning and scheming. Comstock busied his brains on ways and means for securing Kowalsky, alias Smith, and wringing a confession from him, while Spencer worried over this, the queerness of things on the ship, and the astonishing freak of fortune which required his presence in Victoria on August ninth. Mixed with his reflections were thoughts of Mabel Comstock.
BILLY was vaguely wondering if Mabel would marry him whatever happened and Comstock was ruminating upon the irony of being waited upon by the man he wanted to extort his freedom from, when a grunt from the steward caused them to look up suddenly. Smith, his lips a thin resolute line, his prognathous jaws hardset and giving his pallid face a formidable aspect, was staring at them with unwinking amber eyes—menacing, with pupils contracted to pin-points —and as coldly fascinating as a snake’s. In his hands he held two blued-steel automatics—both pointing unwaveringly at their heads. “I’m sorry, gentlemen,” he said, coldly polite, “but just place your hands on the table, if you please. That’s right! Now, we’ll talk business.”
“What th’ devil’s th’ matter with you?” sputtered Billy angrily. He was furious with himself for having been caught napping. Comstock was gasping, open-mouthed, in stupid bewilderment.
To be Continued