THE OCEAN TRAMPS
Iv. “Sunk Without Trace"
H. deVERE STACPOOLE
THE mat sail flapped against the mast and then hung loose whilst the chuckle of bow and outrigger died away.
Harman, turning his face to the east all gone watery with the dawn, saw the moving moonlit swell silver polished by the calm, then, leaning forward, he gave his sleeping companion a prod with the steering paddle.
Cruising in a South Sea Island canoe tries the temper as well as the judgment and two days of this business had considerably shortened the temper of Billy Harman.
For two days and two nights, fed on bananas and island truck and led by the pointing of an indifferent compass, they had pursued the West, chased by the light of gorgeous daw ns, broiled by mid-day suns, raising nothing but endless horizons and consuming sunsets.
“Wind’s gone’" cried Harman, “flat calm and looks like stayin' put.”
Davis roused, supported himself with a hand on the outrigger gratings, and blinked at the dawn; then he yawned, then he began to get command of speech.
“Whach you want digging me in the ribs like that for?” said Davis, "you and your flat calms —where’s the hurry? are you afraid it’ll run away -blest if you aren’t the
“No use quarrelin’,” cut in the other, “fightin’s a mug’s game and words won’t bring no wind. Pass us a drinkin’ nut.”
Davis passed the nut and then, whilst the other refreshed himself, leaned, his elbow on the grating and his eyes fixed lazily on the east.
Morning bank there was none, nor colour, nothing but a great crystal window showing infinite distance and taking suddenly a reflection of fire and a sill of gold; gold that moved and ran north and south and then leapt boiling across the swell whilst the sun burst up hitting Harman in the back and Davis in the face and turning the lingering moon to a grey cinder above the azure of the west and the morning sea.
Away to southward, across the sunlit swell a ship showed becalmed and painting the water with the reflection of her canvas and. wonder of wonders, a mile from her and more to the north stood another ship also held in the grip of the calm and seeming the duplicate of the first in rig. tonnage and design.
They were whalers, two of the last of the old whaling fleet, cruising maybe in company or brought together by chance.
Harman was the first to sight them, then Davis turned and leaning comfortably on the outrigger gratings looked.
"Whalemen.” said Harman,
“look at ’em. stump topmasts, tryin’-out works and all, look at era; b—y pair of slush tubs.”
Davis said nothing; he spat into the water and continued to look whilst Harman went on.
“There you are. grumblin’ last night there were no ships about and them things only waitin' to show themselves, castin’ the canoe in the teeth o’ Providence, sayin' you wanted planks under your feet to walk on—planks, b'gosh. if one of them gurry butts sights us weil be planked—I’ve been there and I know.”
“Oh, they won’t bother about us.” said Davis.
man. “Shows what you know of whalemen; if them chaps sighted the twelve ’postles driftin’ in a canoe, let alone us, they’d yank ’em on board and set ’em to work: hands is what they’re always cravin’ for and our only chance is they’ll take us for Kanakas, goin’ by the cut of the canoe.”
“Oh, they won’t bother about us,” said Davis, “and if they do you ain’t a bad imitation of a Kanaka, but it’s cursed luck all the same—planks, yes, I want the feel of a plank under my foot, and the feel that there isn’t only ten days grub and water between us and perdition—curse them.”
“Now you’ve done it!” cried Harman. “Look! they’re cornin’.”
Sure enough, as though the last words of Davis had struck life into the far-off vessels, the decks of both ships suddenly swarmed with ant-like figures, boats were dropped, and in a flash were making across the sea, two fleets of six boats each and rowing as if in a race.
But they were not making for the canoe. Due north they headed over the glassy swell, whilst Davis, standing erect and holding on to the mast, watched with shaded eyes.
“Whales,” said he. “Whales, they’re after, not us, look at them!”
“I can see no whales,” said Harman.
“No, but they can,” said Davis. “Look! they’re heading west now, they’re on to them.”
A clap of thunder came over the sea and foam spurted amidst the distant boats. Then two of the boats detached themselves from the rest, skimming through the water without sail or oar, the flash of the foam at their bows clear to be seen.
“They’ve got their fish,” cried Harman, “look, he’s going round to the northard and here’s the breeze!”
Up from the south-east it was coming, spreading in great waves like fields of barley; the whale ships had caught it and were trimming their yards in pursuit of the boats and now, the mat sail of the canoe filling out and cracking against the mast, Harman seized the steering paddle and headed her due north.
“Where are you steering for?” shouted Davis.
“North—” replied the other, “you don’t want to be runnin’ into them ships, do you?”
Davis crawled aft, seized the paddle and pushed the other forward.
“Cuss the ships,” said he, “they’ve got their own business to attend to and I’m not going to put her off her course, not for Jim Satan. You don’t mind the ships— they’re busy.”
He was right.
A Swenfoyn gun had put a speedy end to the whale and as the canoe drew along not half a mile away from the nearest ship it was being hauled alongside her and the
tackles were out. But the remainder of the fleet of boats not engaged in this work seemed engaged in some business of their own which was not whale fishing; they were all surging together, oars were being tossed in the air and the far away sound of shouting came across the water.
“FightinM” said Harman, “that’s what they’re at. They’re both claimin’ the fish. I know their monkey tricks. Look at them!”
But Davis was not listening to him, his quick eye had caught something floating ahead; altering the course a ■point he called to Harman to let go the sheet, then, leaning over, he grabbed the floating mass in both hands yelling to the other to balance the canoe.
“Get out on the gratings and hold her down,” cried Davis, “our fortune’s made. Fish! No, you fool, it’s ambergris. Lord send they don’t see us!”
“Mind!” yelled Harman.
'T'HE gunnel lipped the water despite his weight and the -*outrigger rose a foot as Davis strove, then with a mighty effort he brought it tumbling on board, the water pouring off it and there it lay between his feet a huge, knobby, putty-coloured mass, with octopus suckerprongs sticking in it like tiger claws, and a two fathom strip of pale green seaweed twined about it as if for ornament. Harman, without a word, crawled back across the outrigger grating and trimmed the sail whilst Davis without a word resumed the steering paddle.
He did not mind about altering his course now; he put her dead before the wind whilst Harman, half kneeling on the stub of the forward outrigger pole, and with his hand on a stay, reported progress.
“No, they ain’t seen us,” said Harman, “they’re all crowdin’ back on the ships and the fightin’ ’s over; there’s never no good in fightin’, as I said to you this mornin’— not unless you get the other chap’s back to you and belt him on the head sudden. Now if those ballyhoos had quit arguin’ who’d harpooned first and kept their eyes skinned they’d a’ got ambergris instead of sore heads. How much ’s that stuff worth, do you reckon, Bud?” “Mean to say you don’t know and you been on a whale ship?” “Never heard tell of the stuff before nor sighted it,” replied the other. “Whalemen don’t take stock of nothing but blubber— where does it come from, d’ye think?”
“Out of the whale,” said Davis, “and it’s worth twenty dollars an ounce.”
Harman laughed. When Bud had worked upon him sufficiently to make him see the truth he first took a look to make sure the whale ships were showing only their topsails above the horizon, then he sat down to calculate the amount of their fortune.
\ MBERGRIS, though used in YY the production of scent, has no smell or only the faintest trace of odour when warmed; it is the ugliest, stuff in the world, and as valuable as gold. Harman’s bother was that he did not know the weight of the lump. He reckoned, going by comparison with pigs of small ballast, that it might be half a hundredweight, but the table of weights and measures barred him. He could not tell the number of ounces in a half hundredweight.
“Well, it don’t much matter,“ said he at last, “if you’re not lyin’ and it’s worth twenty dollars an ounce, then it’s worth twenty times its weight in dollars and that’s good enough for us. Twenty bags of dollars as heavy as that lump of muck is good enough for Billy Harman. Say, it beats Jonah, don’t it? when you look at that stuff which isn’t more nor less than good dinners by the hundred and bottles of fizz and girls by the raft-load, and to think of an old whale coughin' it up; makes a chap b’lieve in the scriptures, don't it. seein' what it is and seein’ where it come from, and seein' how Providence shoved it right into our hands.”
“We haven’t cashed it yet,” said Davis.
“No, but we will,” replied the other. “I feel it in my bones. I’ve got a hunch the luck ain’t runnin’ streaky this time. Somethin’ else is cornin’ along, you wait and see.”
He was right. Next morning, an hour after sunrise, a stain of smoke showed on the south-eastern hori•zon.
Steamers in those days were fewer in the Pacific even than now, but this was a steamer right enough.
“She’s coming dead for us,” said Davis, as the hull showed clear now of smoke. “Brail up the sail and stand by to signal her—what you make her out to be?”
“Mail boat,” said Harman.
“Sydney-bound, I’ll bet a dollar, you’ll be hearin’ the passengers linin’ up and cheerin’ when we’re took aboard and then it’ll be drinks and cigars and the best of good livin’ till we touch Circular Wharf.
But I ain’t goin’ in for hard drinks, not till we cash in this ambergrease, and not then, only maybe a bottle of fizz to wet the luck. No, sir, seein’ Providence has dealt with us handsome, Billy’s goin’ to do likewise with her. Providence don’t hold with the jag, which ain’t more nor less than buyin’ headaches, and di’mond studs for bar tenders and sich. Providence is dead against drink and you don’t forget that,”
“Why, you were talking only last night of buying a saloon in ’Frisco,” said Davis.
“That ain’t buyin’ drink,” countered Mr. Harman. “Nor swallerin’ it, which is what I’m arguin’ against—Look at her how she’s liftin’.”
They said no more watching the oncoming boat now showing her bridge canvas distinct from her hull. Then suddenly Davis spoke.
“That’s no mail boat,” said Davis, “not big enough, stove pipe funnel, and look at that canvas.
She’s not even a B. P. boat; some old tub carrying copra in trade.”
“Not she,” said Harman. “Steam don’t pay in the copra business, bunkers have to be too big, seein’ there’s no coalin’ stations much in the islands.”
“We’ll soon see,” said Davis and they did.
The stranger came shearing along, showing up now as a five or six hundred ton squat cargo boat, riding high and evidently in ballast, with a rust red stove pipe funnel and a general air of neglect that shouted across the sea her disregard for appearances.
Then the thud of the engines ceased, a yoop of her siren cut the air like a whip lash, and a string of bunting blew out.
Harman waved his shirt and as the stranger came gliding on to them, he got ready to catch the rope that a fellow was preparing to cast from the bow.
As they came alongside, lifting and falling with the swell, a big red-faced man, leaning over the bridge rail, began shouting directions, whilst Davis, seizing the ladder which had been dropped, climbed on deck, leaving Harman to manage the canoe.
'T'HE Oskosh was the name of the hooker, and Billy A Schumways was the name of her master and owner. He was the big man on the bridge seven days out from Arafata Lagoon with a crew of Chinks and a Savage Island bosun, makin’ down for Isseway on the Paumotus and in a hurry. All of which he roared at Davis from the bridge and at Harman from over the bridge side.
“Clew on and kim up,” cried Captain Schumways to the hesitating Harman. “Cut that b—y canoe adrif* and come on deck, and don’t be wastin’ my time, or I’ll ring the injins on. What’s that you’re sayin”? Ambergrease! What’s ambergrease? Ain’t got no time to be muckin’ about—there, bring it if you want to.” He paused whilst Harman, having fastened a rope flung by Davis round the precious ambergrease, came on deck guiding it up. Then when they were both over the rail Schumways ringing the engines full speed ahead came down from the bridge.
“Where’d you get that muck?” asked Captain Schumways, after they’d given their names and a yarn about having been drifted off an island when fishing, “picked it up, did you? Well, you can shove it in the scupper if
you're set on keepin’ it, and now follow me down and I’ll show you your quarters. I’m sufferin’ for extra help in the engine room and I reckon you’ve got to work your passage.”
He led the way to the saloon hatch and down to the saloon.
The Oskosh had been a Farsite Enfield boat running from ’Frisco to Nome. Cargo, Klondyke diggers and lastly contraband, had reduced her from respectability and cleanliness to her present state. The saloon was a wreck and ruin, the panelling split, the fittings gone, bunks filled with raffle and oddments, the table covered with old linoleum showing the marks of coffee cups, and over all a dank, throat-catching atmosphere of decay, cockroaches and dirty bunk bedding.
Schumways inhabited the cabin aft. He pointed out two bunks to port and starboard. “Them’s yours,” said he, “and there’s beddin’ and to spare. You’ll mess here, bein’ whites, and you’ll take your orders from me and Sellers; when you’ve cleared out them bunks and got your beddin’ in, come along up and I’ll show you your job.”
TT E LEFT them and went on deck and Bud Davis sat
-*■ down on the edge of a bunk.
“Say, Billy,” said Bud, “how about those passengers lining up and cheering? How about those soft drinks you were talking of?—or would you sooner have a high ball? And we’re to take our orders from him and Sellers. What I’m proposing to do is go up right now, catch him by the hoofs and dump him over side, scrag Sellers, whoever he is, and take the ship. That’s how I’m feeling.”
“Ain’t no use,” said Harman. “Fightin’ ’s a mug’s game, that chap’s a sure enough tough and we haven’t no
guns. Lay low is the word, more especial as this packet is contraband and we’ve only to wait to get ’em by the short hairs. Contraband—look at her, guns or opium, with blackbirdin’, maybe, thrown in that’s all there is to her.”
Davis assented. These two old Pacific hands had an eye from which no ship could hide her character for sea-unworthiness or disrespectability; Schumways matched his ship and Sellers, when he turned up. would be sure to match Schumways; the crew were Chinks and the case was plain. Not that it bothered Bud or Billy; their one thought as they worked clearing the bunks and settling the bedding was the ambergris.
Schumways knew nothing of ambergris or its value, that fact was quite plain, but it would never do to leave it lying in the scupper, and Harman having poked his head up through the hatch and found a clear deck, they got it down, stowed it in a spare bunk occupied by a filthy rug, a suit of oilskins and a paraffin tin, covering it with the rug.
Then they came on deck, and the captain of the Oskosh coming down from the bridge introduced them to the engine room and Sellers, a wire drawn Yankee, six feet two, who introduced them to the engines and the stokehold.
“Chinks are firin’ her now,” said Sellers, “but you’ll hold yourself ready to take a hand at the shovellin’ if wanted. I’ll larn you how to shoot the stuff; that’s a pressure gauge, you’ll get to know it before you’ve done, and that’s an ile can, you’ll get to know her too.” He led the way down a passage four foot broad to a transverse passage eight foot broad where under a swinging oil lamp Chinks naked to the waist were firing up. He opened the door of a long blazing tunnel and seized a shovel, the coal came down a chute right on to the floor and taking a shovel full he demonstrated.
“Stokin’ ’s not shootin’ coal into a fu’nace, it’s knowin’ where to shoot it. Every fu’nace has hungry places; there’s one, that dull patch up there, and there’s the food for it.” A shovel full of coal went flying into the gehenna right on to the dull patch and dropping the shovel he seized an eight foot bar of steel. “M’rover, it’s not all shovellin’, it’s rakin’. Here’s your rake and how to use it. Then you’ve got to tend the ash lift and when you’ve larnt not to stick your head in the fire when she’s pitchin’ hard you’ll be a stoker; ain’t nothin’ to it but the work an’ the will.”
“But see here, cully,” said Mr. Harman. “We ain’t signed on for stokin’ in this packet, engine room fiddlin’ is stretchin’ a point with A.B.’s, but stokin’s outside the regulations. Clear, and by Board o’ Trade rules—”
That’s them on board the Oskosh," said Sellers, producing a revolver which he exhibited lying flat in the palm of his huge hand as though he were showing a curiosity.
Six rules an’ regulations soft nosed—and don’t you forget it, son.”
npHROUGH days of blazing azure and nights of phosphorescent seas the Oskosh plugged steadily along on her course. She was square rigged on the fore mast and used sail power to assist the engines when the wind held and always and ever, despite her dirt, her disorder, and the general slovenliness of her handling, she kept a bright eye out for strangers. W hen Schumways was not on the bridge using the binoculars they were in the hands of the Savag 3 Island bosun, a fact noted by Billy and Bud when these unfortunates had time to note anything in the midst of their multitudinous occupations.
They were not always put to stoking in this horrible ship where things went anyhow and work was doubled for want of method. They would be oiling in the engine room under command of Sellers when, maybe, the voice of Schumways would come ordering “them roustabouts” up to handle the sails; sail handling, greasing, emptying slush tubs, helping in engine room repairs, “lendin’ a hand Continued on page 44
The Ocean Tramps
Continued from page 25
in the stoke’old.” It was a mixed meal of work that did not please the appetites of Billy or Bud. Yet they had to swallow it. Kicking was no use. Harman tried it and was kicked by Sellers and took the injury and insult without retaliating. Fighting was a mug’s game, but deep in his soul Billy Harman formulated an oath of revenge, swearing that somehow, somewhere, and somewhen he would be even with the Oskoshites to the ultimate limit of their back teeth and the last short hairs of their persons.
He communicated this darkly to his fellow sufferer, who laughed.
They were seated at breakfast feasting on the leavings of Schumways and Sellers and Davis told him to close up.
“You give me the mullygrubs with your talk,” said Davis. “Whenever you open your fool-mouth something happens wrong way about. This was a passenger packet, wasn’t it, and we were to sit in the saloon bein’ admired by the passengers, weren’t we? and was it Fourth Street or Fifth Street you were goin’ to open that whisky joint? and fighting is a mug’s game according to you, whereas if we’d wiped the engine room floor with Sellers first day instead of knuckling down to him we’d have stood on this ship as men instead of being a hog-driven pair of roustabouts begging for scraps and emptying slush tubs. Too late now, they’ve got the better of us and know our make, which is putty, owing to you. Even with them! Why I’ll bet tyventy dollars to a nickel if you try any of your home-made tricks they’ll be even with us. Talking is all you’re good for—fighting’s a mug’s game
“So it is,” replied Mr. Harman. “Fool fightin’ ’s no use, hittin’ out and gettin’ belted’s one thing, but strategy’s another, and that’s what I’m after, and if I don’t get my knife in these chaps’ ribs behind their backs and unknownst to them, you can take me home and bury me—and it won’t be long first.”
He was right.
THAT very evening they lifted Fuanatafi, their destination, a purple cloud in the sunset glow and a cloud of ebony by night as they lay off and on, listening to the far sound of the breakers till dawn revealed the great island in all its splen-
dour and isolation, for Fuanatafi, like Nawra, has no harbour, just a landing beach to westward where boats can put in; razor-backed reefs keep ships a mile from the shore and make the place pretty useless for trade.
As the light broke full on the island Billy Harman, who had come on deck and was standing with Davis by the lee rail, saw away to southward another island with a peak-like summit and to westward of that two small islets circled with moving clouds—gulls.
“Why, Lord bless my soul,” said he, “I’ve been here before, six years ago it was, and we took off a raft of turtle shell for six cases of gin. Christopher Island was the name they give it and it’s head centre for all sorts of back side doin’s. That island to southward is Levisca, and it’s been blackbirded till there ain’t scarcely no Kanakas left on it. Now I wonder what Schumways is landin’ here.”
As if in answer to his question two Chinks came aft carrying a long deal box between them which they dumped close by the main hatch.
The fore hatch was open and they could see more boxes being brought up, six in all, and each one, as it came on deck, was carried aft, the whole being stacked in one pile and covered with a tarpaulin. The engines ceased their dead slow tramp, then came an order from the bridge and the roar and rasp of the anchor chain filled the morning air echoing across the water and lifting the reef gulls in changing spirals.
SCHUMWAYS dropped down from the bridge and Sellers rose from the engine room wiping his hands with a piece of cotton waste; he had put on his coat and wore an old panama on his head ready for shore. Then at an order from Schumways the starboard quarter-boat was lowered, Harman and Davis were ordered into it, and the captain of the Oskosh and his engineer took their places in the stern sheets.
Nothing could be more lovely than the morning light on the streets of blue water between the reefs or the view of the great island washed by the calm ponded sea and waiting for the approaching boat, loveliness that left no trace, however, on the minds of Bud and Billy labouring at the oars, or of Schumways and Sellers smoking in the stern.
As they ran the boat’s nose on to the beach, out from the groves to right and left stepped a dozen Kanakas armed with spears. Casting their spears on the sand they trod on them whilst Sellers and his companion, walking up the beach with hands outstretched, greeted the chief man, bright with palm oil, absolutely naked, and adorned simply with half a willowpattern soup plate worn as a pendant.
The Kanakas and the two whites seemed old friends and the whole lot, after a moment’s chatter, disappeared into the groves, leaving Bud and Billy on the bench by the stranded boat.
“They’re off to the village,” said Harman. “Wonder what they’re up to. Bargainin’ most like over them guns.” “What guns?” asked Davis.
“Them cases we left on deck, them’s guns, or my name’s not Billy Harman. There’s six guns in each of them cases, that’s thirty six for the lot, and I expect Schumways will be askin’ old Catch-emalive-o ten pound apiece for them in corn or shell—maybe in beche-de-mer, for that’s as good as bank notes. That’s three hundred and sixty pounds and the durned things didn’t cost him sixty. I’ll bet—” He turned. Someone came breaking through the trees; it was Sellers.
“Hike off back to the ship and bring them cases,” cried Sellers, “the ones we’ve left on deck. If you can’t bring the whole six, bring four, and you can go back for the other two. Now, then, you lazy sweeps, grease yourselves and get goin’.” “Blast him!” said Davis as they pushed off across the inner lagoon towards the reef break leading to the outer reef channels sparkling blue in the sun.
“No use swearin’,” said Harman, “it don’t cut no ice—Bud, I’ve got them.” “What you mean?” asked Davis.
“Got ’em all in the fryin’ pan, b’gosh. It’s only jumped into my head this minute. Told you I’d get even with them at last and now I’ve as good as done it.” “What’s your plan?” asked Bud.
“You never mind,” replied Billy, “you do as I’m askin’ you and I’ll show you. Lay into your strokes now and that’s all you have to do at the present minit.”
He seemed delighted with himself as he rowed, chuckling and chortling as though he already had the Oskoshites down and out. Bud, who knew Billy’s mentality from long practice and use, was not so elated. He knew that Harman, amongst his other mental qualities, was likely to go blind of one eye when seeing red or when ambition was at fever heat and Billy was undoubtedly seeing red, full of the thirst for revenge at having been made to work, at having been kicked and spoken to with contumely, he was fit for anything just now.
“What is it that’s in your mind, Billy?” asked the other as they drew up to the Oskosh.
“You wait and see,” said Harman, “say nuthin’ and follow my lead prompt and we’ve got them on a split stick/’
The Chinks stood by the ladder as Harman went up it, leaving Davis to mind the boat, then on deck he gave the Kanaka bosun his orders and whilst the cases were being got into the boat stepped below.
HE CAME up in a few minutes and helped with the last case, then dropping into the boat beside Davis he pushed off, and they began rowing toward the shore.
“Go slow,” said Harman, “and don’t pull hard. The breeze is backin’ into the north and I’ll have the mast up in a minute, then we can run for Levisca. We could row there quick enough but it’s easier to sail. After we’ve taken on grub and water there we can push further south.”
“What the blue blazes are you talking of?” said Davis. “You mean running away in this boat?”
“Yep,” replied Harman.
“But, you fool, they’ll up steam and be after us before we’ve got half way there.” “Not they,” replied the strategist, “you wait an’ see, you keep your eye on the old Oskosh and you’ll see somethin’ funny in a minute.”
He ceased rowing, so did Davis, and the boat rocked on the swell, then as he got the mast stepped and the sail shaken out Davis, whose eyes were fixed on the far off ship, gave an exclamation of surprise.
“Why, she’s lying awfully low in the water.”
“Yes,” said Harman quite simply. “I’ve opened the sea cocks.”
“You’ve what?" cried the other.
“Opened the sea cocks when I went below. The Chinks haven’t twigged yet that she’s sinkin’, she’s goin’ peaceful as a dyin’ Christian, look—” a column of steam was rising from the funnel of the sinking ship. “They’ve twigged it now, but they don’t know what’s sinking her and if they did they haven’t the sense to know what to do. Besides, it’s too late. Look, they’re gettin’ out the boats; now help me to dump these durned cases and bring the sheet aft.”
Davis did as he was told, then as the boat lay over, making a long board for Levisca, he suddenly leaned forward towards Harman, his face injected with blood.
“You’ve done it, haven’t you?” shouted Davis.
“Yes, b’gosh I have,” said Harman complacently, his eyes fixed on the Oskosh sinking by the head and with her stern high in the air.
“Wouldn’t tell me your plans, would you? So full of hitting Schumways you had no thought of anything else, weren’t you?—Well, you sainted fool, what about that ambergris?”
“What ambergrease?—Oh, Lord! the ambergrease,” said the wretched Harman suddenly remembering. “We’ve left it behind!”
“You’ve left it, you mean. What would it have cost to have taken two Chinks down and fetched it up and stowed it in the boat? Not a nickel—and it was worth twenty thousand dollars.”
Harman said nothing. The Oskosh was making her last plunge and the overloaded boats were making for shore, then his face slowly brightened as the face of Sellers and the face of Schumways rose before him and the vision of the forced labor he had been engaged in and the vision of the cursed engines that would work no more. “It was worth it,” said he, “if it was five hundred dollars an ounce, it was worth it.”
“What was worth it?” asked Davis. “Losin’ that ambergrease,” replied Mr. Harman.
(The fifth story will appear in the next issue. )
THOSE were the very words she had spoken seven years ago—“Some day you may be glad to have me protect your timber!”—and here she was, a ranger on Archer Patterson’s limit!
Their last meeting took shape from the recesses of memory, and she saw him hurrying impetuously across the crowded street to her hotel. She and Jim had gone to Montreal to attend a forestry convention, and Patterson had followed them there. She did not know how earnestly he hoped to be disillusioned by seeing her contrasted with girls whose upbringing had been conventional, how he had reminded himself that a gondolier in a dinner jacket and a geisha in an evening dress, are apt to lose their charm. Logically, then, a girl in beaded doe-skin, a bronzed unpowdered creature of the wilds, must appear distinctly inharmonious, commonplace in a ball-room.
She did know, however, that he made a swift and flattering appraisement of her, that his eyes approved her simple and expensive clothes, before his lips announced the fact. She did know, too, that at the dance on the evening of his arrival, he had stood by the door and sulked while she distributed her favors impartially.
Womanlike, she dwelt a moment on her costume—one of Jim’s choosing. A dull gold satin it was, whose long, classic lines exaggerating the slenderness of her figure, stood out conspicuously amid a riot of sharply-girded waists, chiffon overdresses, and tunics worn at unbecoming lengths. A susceptible partner had complimented her by suggesting that she was as radiant as an autumn tree, imbued with the promise of eternal spring.
But no compliments burst from Archer Patterson’s sullen lips. He claimed his dance in a voice that was like the growl of distant thunder, and conducted her in silence to a deserted corner of a conservatory.
Without warning, she found herself fighting in his arms like a wild-cat, while a flood of incoherent phrases poured from his lips.
Finally, she tore herself free, crying: “Archer Patterson, have you gone mad? What do you mean by this disgusting exhibition? Let go of me instantly or I shall call somebody!”
He released her but cut off her retreat, and plunged into a confession of his love.
“I want you. I love you,” he said. “Don’t go back to those silly fools. I can’t bear it.”
“I think you had better go home,” she said, with a look that was like a sharp blow on the cheek.
“No, no! Don’t send me away. . . don’t be angry I hardly know what I’m doing, I’m so crazy for you! Ray, for Heaven’s sake, promise to marry me —soon!”
SHE had refused him with a decisiveness that left no room for misunderstanding. She refused him, the son of G. J. Patterson, who had always imagined that choosing a wife from “a flock of girls” would be rather like picking a pleasing dog from the kennels.
Sobered, humiliated, suffering a hurt that he tried to conceal under a sneer, he suggested that it was his privilege to ask her reason.
“Plain incompatibility of character,” she answered more gently. “We have nothing in common . Take our ideas of love, for example. How often have I heard you say that it should be but an embellishment of life instead of its foundation? That reeks of sheer sacrilege to me.”
“I said it before I knew you,” was his choked protest.
“On the contrary, it was after you knew me very well.”
“But I have changed.”
“People don’t change principles, fundamentals, so suddenly,” she reminded him. “This is but a temporary phase, Pat; you’ll agree with me some day, and thank me.”
■‘Never!” he declared.
“I should bore you; you would hurt me. The gods I worship evoke no reverence in you. Your golden calf, frankly, disgusts me. You are not of my world; I am not of your class. It’s no one’s fault, it just is!”
“You are exaggerating everything,” he accused, “except the important thing
_I love you—I need you!”
“How like the son of a wealthy man—
the spoiled son of an indulgent, wealthy man,” she said with deliberate cruelty. “When have you ever made a conscious effort to attain a coveted object, Archer Patterson, beyond the wheedling or the bleeding of your father?”
“What do you want me to do?” he cried, miserably. “Take a pilgrimage to Mecca, or do a forty yard dash on red-hot ploughshares?”
For an instant, anger blazed in her eyes. “You asked for reasons,” she said, “and I am giving them to you.”
“Forgive me,” he begged, “I am insufferable. But, oh, Ray, believe me, I do love you! That ought to help . .1 love you!”
“As a novelty,” she said. “As a novelty, however, I could not hope to hold you.”
Instantly, she saw her mistake, for he clutched at the straw she had inadvertently thrown out.
“Then you care for me—a little?” he whispered, coming close to her.
She pushed violently away from him. Her face was scarlet.
“No, no,” she cried. “I don’t. . . not as you are....”
“Oh! not as I am!” Words he had never meant to say crowded out of his lips. “In that case there is nothing more for me to say, but I’ll start right in on an uplift correspondence course, hoping in time to attract you by manufacturing a few souls of good quality! If I ever attain the proper degree of righteousness, I beg you to send for me. . . I will come!”
With that, he had stumbled from her. She had never seen, nor heard from him since—not even when Jim died, and she was thrown on her own resources.
“And yet,” she cried into her fragrant balsam pillow, “why should I?”
What presumption for her, a chit of a girl with nothing to offer, to impose an obligation of worthiness on the son of G. J. Patterson, the lumber king! How, in after years, he must have smiled! And as for making good, Ray was not ignorant as to Archer Patterson’s achievements, both business and social, as well as with the C.E.F. in France. Rarely had she opened a technical journal without seeing some mention of him, scarcely a meeting of lumber magnates but numbered him amongst those present, and in the world of society he was a prominent and conspicuous figure. The wonder was that he had never married.
A deeper hush shrouded the forest. The soft flutter of wings, the tiny squeak of little creatures of the dark, the pungent air freighted with dampness from the new-thawed earth, lulled Ray’s senses, and suddenly, the flushed, passionate face of Archer Patterson was blotted out by the heavy folds of sleep.
TT SEEMED that neither Madame ■I Janisse nor Dickie Devine had made an extravagant prophecy regarding Therien’s acceptance of defeat. He certainly played true to form on learning that a ranger had been appointed, and the story of his behaviour one night later at Ouimet’s saloon “filled the mouth” of the entire village and the camp population with one exception—• the person most vitalljxconcerned—Ray Lane herself.
She heard nothing of it until long afterward when she had learned to watch for demonstrations of Therien’s rancour; and then, of course, the story failed to trouble her.
Therien was in his cups, and it seemed that some of the younger men at Ouimet’s had been twitting him about his failure to secure the position of ranger on the Patterson limits. Then they had slyly told him that a young woman—a mere slip of girl—had been appointed in his stead.
Therien sprang to his feet and stamped the floor in his rage. “A woomans!” He fairly screamed it. “I can hardly believe! Can you see ’er stay h-all alone dere by de shack, hen de night, h-on de storm, alone wit’ de noise of de fores’? Har— a woomans—W’at is she do, when de h-owl cry by de door, w’en de wolf w’ine joos past de fire?. . . . W’at she do when de li’l flame cr-r-r-reep and cr-r-rreep along h’onder de leaf, an’ burs’ into de beeg blaze—haw? Pouf! She ron— dats w’at she do—ron! An’ dey take a woomans in de place of me, Auguste Therien? Why dat mak me look lak.... Show me to her!” he shouted, staggering crazily about. “Show me to her, de--”
His tirade ended in a torrent of filth
and obscenity that, used as they were to his blasphemous tongue, made his companions shudder and turn away. It was said that Therien’s growl was worse than his bite, but these men knew better. It is curious how these people, quarrelsome enough among themselves and jealous of one another, will unite against a stranger who takes issue with one of t hem.
They knew that Therien was capable of the basest treachery; they often told stories of his unscrupulousness, his villainy; yet not a protest was uttered when he denounced and threatened the well-being of the girl who had been successful in obtaining the position he had coveted.
In a very short time, Ray Lane found reason to more than suspect that Auguste Therien’s resentment towards her had begun to take delinite form. First it was her chopping axes that disappeared, then a pair of pliers, a spade, a package of nails, a hunting knife and six boxes of cartridges Day after day, this silent, unseen system of petty thieving went on, and she had no redress but to replace the necessary equipment at her own expense.
SUMMER wore on and about the middle of June, Les Roches Crises in the village of Lac St. Dennis opened its nail-studded doors to receive holidayers from the cities. With their advent came a new menace to Ray and the forests she guarded—that of the carelessly laid camp fire and of the lighted match or cigar or cigarette end carelessly thrown into the dry brush.
It was from Madame Janisse that Ray learned that Auguste Therien had registered himself as guide, and was taking parties from the hotel into the forests to fish and camp and explore the glories of the hills according to their fancies.
“Some guides, dat man!” she sneered. “I know how ’e do—’e shave hees og-lee mug an’ put h-on de clean shirts, one day, an’ den as soon as ’e fin’ de coupl’ dollar' on hees pocket, ’e say. . . ‘To ’ell wit’ dose damfool peoples! If dey drown on de lak, or lose demself on de forest, sure dat is not my fault! I can’t work all de tam; I need some res’!” Madame’s gestures left nothing to the ranger’s imagination. “You know de res’ ’e tak,” she continued, “an’, ba Gosh, Miss Cr-r-omp, I rader ’e res’ dan tak my girls off h-on de picnique —dat’s sure!”
But the widow of the former ranger was more concerned about a letter she had received from Archer Patterson, containing the cheque which he sent her every month since she lost her husband. She passed the letter over to Ray. It was brief and concluded: “I am still looking forward to visiting the limit before long, but there is no immediate prospect of my getting away. In the meantime, if you are in any difficulty, either write to me or ask Mr. Cox to give you what you need.”
Ray read the letter eagerly, returned it absently, and walked to the open door. Her face was uncomfortably flushed, her heart pounded heavily. “Suppose he should come,” she said to herself. “Suppose he should find me here!” Madame Janisse’s harsh voice broke in upon her reflections.
“I bet if Mr. Patterson come h-on de wood’ las’ spring, Ba’tiste don’ get ’urt. Non! 'Ave I tole you about de tam ’e jomp h-on de reever w’en she is so full of ice and log, she rosh joos lak de St. Laurent?”
“Mr. Patterson?” asked the ranger, incredulously. “What for—to swim?” “Mais non. Who can swim h-on de reever w’en de log’ come down? Non, to try dat t’ing is to die, for sure! But Mr. Patterson, ’e ’ave no fear for nodings. Dat is since t’ree year, w’en dey build de mill h-on St. Justin, an’ de riviere du Nor’. She is so cramful of log’ dat dey crash and break one on de noder by hondred. Down by de fall’, de mak’ one beeg jam dat look lak max million jackstraw’, ba Gosh!
“Now, if you know anyt’ings, you know dat de jams, she mus’ be broke, and much mans get 'urt h-on dose tam’. Mr. Patterson, ’e work ’ard wit’ de driver’, an’ Ba’tiste say how 'e is not so slomsy, needer, h-on de log.
“Bienl One day, w’en de win’ she blow de beeg wave so ’igh as your ’ead, and poosh de ice an’ log de worse as you never see, Dolph Carrón, ’e slip an’ fall right down h-on de middle of de jam.
“ ‘Nom de JesuV say de mans, ‘ ’e is
gone for sure!’ An’ dey stan’ still to watch for heem to come up.
“But Mr. Archer Patterson, ’e plonge right in, sapree! Dat some job, mam’selle! ’E grab Dolph and fling heem to de boys. “E save dat leetle man’ life, dat somet’ing, you t’ink—hein?”
THE flush faded from the ranger’s cheeks. She sat very still, looking out into the gathering shadows with an expression that her hostess found inscrutable, but which she interpreted as indifference to a deed of conspicuous heroism.
Madame Janisse was nettled.
“Perhaps you do not understan’, Mam’selle,” she said, “w’at it mean to jomp h-on de middle of de log-jam w’en de reever rosh h-on de spring! Perhaps you ’ave never seen dose great timber crack de noder one till de wood mak’ echo from de bomp! Bang! Klack! Bang! Mon Jeieu, de roar! Perhaps you t’ink how it is easy for swim h-on ice water, an’ keep de log off yourself so dat you don’ get crosh lak pulp! Or perhaps you imagine it is better for stay h-onder de water lak de loon!”
“Was he hurt?” asked the ranger, very low.
“But certainly! What you expec’? ’E don’ mak’ magic, dat mans! ’E got crosh by de bones of his side, an’ a good mash by de ’ead, but Dolph, ’e ’ave only a leetle scratches. An’ now, w’at ’ave you?” She broke off and looked at her guest in sudden alarm. “For w’y you ’old your mout’—is it a soreness h-on your teet’ or are you seek h-on your stomick?” “I’m all right,” gasped the ranger. “The heat If Laura would get me a drink of water . . . . ”
The children dashed to the spring and fought for the privilege ' of performing this service. After a noisy interval, however, Ray received a dingy cup from Rene, and managed to sip a few mouthfuls of it, while a semi-circle of eyes watched her. Then she gathered her provisions together and set out for home.
Journeying along the homeward trail that evening, she heard nothing with her physical ear, saw nothing with her physical eye, and yet, as definitély as she might have felt a touch upon her hand, she was conscious of an impulsion to retrace her steps.
Darkness was coming on and she fought against the urge, knowing the care she had taken to leave everything in order, and the difficulty of finding her way after dark from this particular section, to the shack. She was hungry and very tired.
But she could not go on. An invisible force seemed to rise before her, to compass her on all sides and to make further progress impossible.
Ray turned, to find walking in the opposite direction was as easy as though she had rounded a corner and placed herself beyond the reach of a strong head wind.
The warning was too definite to be disregarded.
Alarm sickened her. She knew that something was the matter. Faster and faster she moved, finally breaking into a run, and presently she smelled, she heard, she saw the thing she dreaded. The whole of the uncleared area of the “well” was carpeted with horrible little blue and red tongues that had appeared, suddenly, like evilly enchanted flowers!
There was no time to ask how it had happened—to search for the one whom she felt instinctively to be guilty. The immediate necessity was to fight. She leaped into the blazing area, using her coat to blanket the flames that shot in a dozen directions at once, like so much boiling mercury, and sprang up the nearby tree trunks, as though mocking her clumsy human slowness.
IT WAS desperate work; not only difficult and painful, but terrifying in that she made so little headway, that the fire was getting the better of her. This way and that it darted, hissing and crackling defiance.
Unconsciously sobbing, she called on Jim to help. Again and again, she cried to him, and just when she was about to give up the fight, when the fire seemed to have spread beyond her reach and her control, something happened, she never knew just what; the blaze ran no farther, the flames sputtered and died. The fire was extinguished!
Darkness had fallen. She was too utterly exhausted to stumble up the hill. She dropped, weak, but triumphant,
where she stood, and slept in the midst j of the ashes.
It was not until the next morning that she realized how much she had suffered from the flames; that her clothes were scorched, and even her face and hands were badly blistered.
She was obliged to go to the village for remedies. Her hands were in such a condition that work with an axe or any other implement was quite out of the question, and at the store she ran right into Dickie Devine—the very person above all others she had hoped to avoid.
He hurled a few questions at her, did a little deducing, and then dragged her into the office.
“Look,” he cried, pointing to an ugly red blotch on her face. “Look at that, please, Mr. Cox!”
“Dear, dear,” murmured the old man. “Have you met with an accident?”
“If you choose to call incendiarism an accident,” Devine answered, excitedly. “That’s what she got fighting the blaze —fighting alone, mind you! She won’t show me her hands so I can guess what sort of condition they are in. . .
“A fire,” stammered Mr. Cox, much disturbed, “a fire on the limit?”
“Last night,” said Ann Crump, and told her story.
“But, my dear young lady,” he exclaimed, “you should not have taken such a chance. .. Suppose it had spread beyond your control . . .You should have had help.... What is the matter with the telephone?”
“Nothing,” she smiled, “except that it happened to be about a mile from the place where it was needed. The fire proved to be of little consequence, however, and my burns are not serious.” “That’s not so,” Devine contradicted, “and even if it were, the thing doesn’t end there! The fact that a blaze was started is serious enough. ...”
“Was started?” Cox queried, sharply, turning to the girl.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I really don’t know what to think. . . ”
“But did you hear anything unusual?” demanded Dickie.
She shook her head. “A hundred elephants could have stampeded without attracting my attention. I was too busy fighting the fire.”
“No, and after.... well, I was too tired .... I went to sleep.”
“How the dev— how on earth did you find your way back to the shack after dark?” asked Devine.
“I didn’t,” Ann Crump told him. “I dropped in my tracks and slept in the clearing.”
“Oh, my heavens!” she heard him mutter under his breath.
When the ranger had gone Dickie turned viciously to Cox.
“Well, are you convinced now,” he demanded, “that Therien means business?”
“No!” The answer was given with considerable dignity, “I cannot see in this occurrence any indisputable proof of the man’s villainy.”
Amazement held Dickie speechless for an instant. “You don’t mean to insinuate that Ann Crump was careless?” he cried.
“Well, scarcely that. Sparks are easily overlooked, however, and she said herself that the place was like a tinder box!”
Mr. Cox suggested that Miss Crump was a good enough ranger to take care of herself.
“Ranger be damned!” Dickie cried. “She’s a woman... .she’s a woman at the mercy of an unscrupulous brute! She’s absolutely alone up there... why, she hasn’t even a dog!”
As he uttered these words his expression changed, and he struck the desk a violent blow with his fist. “There’s an idea!” he exclaimed. “A dog! She must have a dog, Mr. Cox, and I’ll just wire a chap in Montreal to send the best specimen he can buy! An Airedale, I think, or a.... ”
The rest was lost to Cox as the boy dashed across the road to the station and into the telegraph office. But when he returned, the old man took up the thread of his broken sentence and carried it to an unexpected conclusion.
“I can ill afford any extra expenditure at the moment,” he said, “for I am endeavoring to relieve my sister of considerable financial strain occasioned by her illness. But I trust^-indeed, I insist —Mr. Devine, that you allow me to pay for at least a portion of that dog!”
To be Concluded