A Skin Game at Deception Island
Are redit aired men fools for luck?
IT ALL happened with the coming of Red-Headed McDonald to Anchorville.
A schooner had spewed him ashore in Halifax with money to burn and, seamanlike, McDonald held high carnival for a delirious fortnight. When his money was gone he sobered up with the resolution of doing the prodigal son act before the old folks “somewhere up the Bay o’ Fundy.” A friendly skipper of a packet schooner carried the prodigal as far as Anchorville and with a drink and a blessing left him to work his own traverse to the table and the fatted calf.
Ashore in the little Nova Scotia port and disgustingly sober, the prospect of going home “broke” began to appeal with decreasing insistence to the erring one.
Give him a staunch vessel, a good crew, and he knew where a fortune was waiting for the adventurous ones. It was a long distance away—down at the foot of the world. Wild winds, wild seas and pitiless cold would have to be fought by the men who dared to take the chance. Then came the memory of his debauch in Halifax. Maybe he talked too much? Mayhap he dropped valuable information into ears which understood? Curse the rum! It had ruined him, and always would be retained a hankering for potent spirits.
W'ith a deprecatory shudder at his own shortcomings, McDonald turned away from the wharf and, making his way up-town, dropped into Morrison’s pool room. He didn’t know what led him there. It was warm, and perhaps there was a chance of picking up something.
' I 'HE room was dense with tobacco smoke. One or -*■ two men, presumably fishermen, were knocking the balls about, while a big, raw-boned fellow, dressed in good clothes, but collarless, was holding forth "to the gang who lolled on the benches and practised expectorative shots at the brass cuspidor. The big man was evidently disgusted with something, and McDonald listened to the growling monotone of his voice.
“Aye,” rumbled the speaker. “Fishin’ ain’t wuth a dam’ these days. I’ll quit th’ business for good, ef luck don’t change. Here we are, jest in from a three weeks’ trip from th’ Cape shore an’ what hev I got to show for it? Nawthin’ but a miserable fifty thousand, mostly hake at that—not enough ter pay fur all th’ gear we lost, or even fur th’ herrin’ bait we used up. Last trip we did about as good—fed th’ dogfish with most o’ our bait, bust our fores’l, an’ had ter stay out so long, that th’ shares went ter pay th’ grub bill. I’ve lost enough this summer ter pay fur a new vessel. Aye! a new vessel!”
“Why don’t ye lay up fur a spell, Cap’n?” inquired a man.
“Lay her up?” grunted the other. “I might as well do that as lose money every time I make a set. I’ll probably have ter lay her up, as none o’ the gang’ll sail with me agen. They think I’m a hoodoo. Ef I c’d do anythin’ else with that vessel, barrin’ fishin’, I’d do it.”
And Captain Bartley Simons turned dejectedly away.
FREDERICK WILLIAM WALLACE
As he sauntered out of the door, a sun-browned man with red hair plucked him by the elbow.
“Well? What’s the matter with you?” growled Simons, as he paused at the threshold.
“Come outside. I want to talk to you—particular.”
“What’s ter hinder ye talkin’ particular here?” snarled the skipper. “I don’t owe you anythin’, doT?”
T17ITHOUT answering, McDonald caught the dis* » gruntled fisherman by the arm and swung him outside.
“Excuse me,” he said. “My name’s McDonald. I come from Maitland way. Used to be mate—sealing schooner. I h’ard ye growlin’ again’ yer luck inside there, an’ I think I kin put ye on a pot o’ money, ef ye’ll take a risk.”
Simons glared at the red-haired one in surprise.
“Ye’ll put me on to a pot o’ money?” he repeated, “an’ how in th’ devil’s name kin a red-topped scallawag like you put me on to a pot o’ money? Why don’t ye git it fur yerself?”
With an insistence that was not to be denied, McDonald piloted Captain Simons to a quiet spot on the adjacent wharf.
“Sit down,” he commanded, and Simons obeyed instinctively. Somehow this McDonald was like the Ancient Mariner and “had his will.”
“I used ter be mate on the Topsail Belle—a ninety-ton sealin’ schooner. Three weeks ago I got back inter Halifax after fourteen months in th’ Southern Ocean. When I drew my share—ft was quite a wad—I blew it all in, inside o’ two weeks, an’ now I’m broke—No! no! I ain’t goin’ ter make a touch on you, Cap’n—sit still! I’ve a good fifty-dollar watch left yet, an’ a ring which I got in Monte Video w’uth another twenty.
“Now, I sh’d ha’ hung on to that there money, but you know th’ way. Ye start with a little nip o’ rum and end up with gettin’ outside o’ a puncheon o’ th’ rot-gut stufT. That’s what I did, an’ woke up in a shack on Grafton Street, deak broke. My watch an’ ring were inside o’ a pair o’ sea-boots which I had in my bag, an’ that’s all I got left. That’ll do fur interduckshun, an’ explain why I’m here. Now fur th’ business.
“V’y’ge afore last I went with my uncle, Pete McDonald, on a sealin’ trip to th’ Sou’ Georgias—away off Cape Horn. We got down there all right an’ did
For th' whole o' one night I tugged at them oars, countin', countin', countin', until I was up in th’ millions. I was goin’ batty then, but it kept me warm.
some fair sealin’, but my uncle had h’ard that seals were plentiful in the Sou’ Shetlands, so we squared away fur there. As it was summertime down south, we made th’ run inter Bransfield’s Straits without much trouble—”
“Did ye git any o’ them critters there?” interrupted Simons, visibly interested.
“Did we git seals?” Well, I sh’d say so! Th’ blessed islands an’ rocks were covered with them, an’ it did not take us long ter load pelts up ter th’ hatch coamings. We made a fortune—” “Huh!” grunted Simons sarcastically.
“And lost it,” continued the other. “It was this way. While rootin’ around in th’ Strait, we discovered an island to th’ west’ard that was shaped like a horseshoe. Isla Decepción, the Argentinos call it. It looked like a snug harbor, so we hauled th’ schooner inter th’ middle o’ it through a narrow passage a cable’s length in width. An’ unloadin’ th’ skins, we dressed them in Liverpool salt ready fur th’ long trip to th’ Cape. On goin’ out of the passage, we ran on th’ rocks to th’ starboard side, an’ knocked a hole in th’ schooner’s bottom.
“We unloaded her to get her lightened, but as soon as we got all the skins an’ stuff out o’ her, she lifted in the tide, capsized an’ sank. This left us in a fine fix, an’ as there was some twenty of us all told, we just managed ter save provisions enough to ha’ lasted th’ gang fur eight days—short allowance at that.”
DARTLEY SIMONS nodded his head, and as the other paused, he reached into his vest pocket and offered a particularly bilious looking cigar to the speaker.
“Smoke up, mate, he rumbled. “I alius gives a cigar to th’ feller that can spin a good yarn. I believe yours, so fire away!”
McDonald regarded the weed with a doubtful air, and after a suspicious sniff, lighted it, and continued:
“As we did not want ter spend a winter on a blasted, barren rock, we cached th’ pelts in a cave an’ takin’ to th’ boats, steered a course fur Elephant Island, four hundred miles to th’ no’theast.”
“That’s some pull,” commented the fisherman.
“Aye, it was some pull, you bet. Four hundred bitter miles to go—over a sea where th’ smallest waves are like mountains, an’ th’ month o’ May cornin’ on. It was no joke, I kin tell ye. We had h’ard that the Argentine Government had established a depot on the island fur shipwrecked sailors, and we cal’lated if we got there we’d spend th’ winter an’ chance bein’ picked up in the’ spring. Ye see, it was gettin’ so late in th’ year — winter was cornin’ on down south—an’ th’ whalers an’ sealin’ craft had all gone to the nor’rard.
“Th’ second day after we left Deception Island we ran inter a heavy sou’west gale, an’ my uncle an’ th’ four men in his boat disappeared. Later we lost sight o’ the other, an’ never saw either o’ them again. This left two boats with five men in each an’ we rode th’ buster out by lashin’ oars together an’ headin’ up to th’ sea with them as a drog. I was sorry ter lose my uncle, for he was a fine feller, but the other men were an infernally hard crowd—mostly cod-haulers from Saint John’s, Newf’nland.
‘Next day we lost the other boat. She was swamped by a big comber, an’ th’ crew in her went down like stones in the icy, cold water with such heavy clothes on. That left us alone—four men an’ myself, an’ for th’ nex’ three days we had a devilish hard time. Look at me left han’!”
As he spoke he thrust out his left hand, from which the third and fourth fingers were missing. Simons gazed on the sight unaffectedly, and McDonald resumed his narrative.
“I lost both o’ my little toes an’ them two claws by frostbite, an’ one o’ th’ men in th’boat with me was frozen to death. He was as stiff as a frozen cod -when I rolled him over the gunnel. God, but it was cold! We pulled on the oars for a spell, sang a lot of silly songs, an’ began ter count th’ number o’ strokes we pulled. For th’ whole o’ one night I tugged at them oars, countin’, countin’, countin’, until I was up in th’ millions. I was goin’ batty then, but it kept me warm.
“We were picked up by a Scowegian whaler hangin’ on to th’ last minute, but the other fellers died when we came in sight o’ the East Falkland. I landed at Port Stanley, made my way to Monte Video, an’ findin’ th’ Topsail Belle lying there an’ lookin’ for a mate, I got th’ berth. On her we worked around th’ Crozets an’ th’ Indian Ocean grounds, an’ I kep’ a shut mouth regardin’ th’ pelts in th’ cave on Deception Island. Ef I had told them, they would ha’ scoffed th’ lot an’ probably bounced me in Cape Town.”
A/fcDONALD paused and scrutinized the fisherman’s face with hungry eyes. Bartley knocked the ash off his odoriferous perfecto and spoke slowly:
“I presume, now, that you want ter git them skins?”
“Yes, by Godfrey! I want to get them. I want to get my hands on some money, an’ you’re th’ man that can help me!”
“Well, ye hev a schooner. It’s yer own I take it. By yer own sayin’ ye would do anythin’ with her, instead o’ losin’ money fishin’. Fit her out for me, an’ I divide half with you. There’s a good four thousand pelts layin’ in that cave—all salted, dressed an’ in an atmosphere where they’ll keep forever. On th’ basis o’ twentyfive dollars a skin—they sell Cape Horn skins in London for thirty-five to forty dollars—that would make around one hundred thousand cold, hard plunks!”
Captain Simons recoiled.
“One hundred thousand dollars in seal-skins! Holy Smoke! What a fortune!” For a moment he pondered, then rising hastily, he grabbed McDonald by the arm. “Come to home with me,” he cried. “I want er think an’ talk it over. You may be lyin’, but I’ll soon find out. An’ ef ye ar, th’ Lord help ye! One hundred thousand dollars! Holy Smoke, but it beats fishin’!”
And taking the red-haired man by the arm, as if he were afraid to lose him, he led the way to his home.
A/fcDONALD had to -LV-l undergo a gruelling cross-examination under Simon’s questioning tongue. Shipping records were looked up and the loss of the schooner verified under the government record of “ Missing Ships.'’
McDonald’s name was also enumerated among the crew, and when he saw the fateful record, he suddenly thought of his folks at home.
“By Heck!” he cried. “They’ll think I’m dead. Well, I won’t bother ’em now. When I git my paws on th’ dollars I’ll go home.” Dismissing the subject from his mind, he launched into fitting out details with the now enthusiastic Bartley Simons.
“Now,” said the latter, “I’ll provision th’ vessel for a six month’s trip, an’ I’ll hev ter git a cook an’ at least six men. I wonder ef any o’ my gang would
go? They’re only fishermen, but they know th’ vessel an’ kin handle her better than any o’ yer deep-water fellers. You’ll do th’ navigatin’, an’ we’ll stand watch an’ watch.”
And far into the night they discussed ways and means. Thus came the red-haired man to Anchorville. The man who came from nowhere into Morrison’s pool room, and left the town with, Bartley Simon’s seventyfive-ton schooner, Roberta S., and eight of Anchorville’s sons. Where they went to, nobody knew. Simon’s gave it out that he was running to Newfoundland for dry fish, and maybe a West Indies voyage. He would be gone some considerable time, he calculated—maybe three months, maybe six months. It was nobody’s business but his own. And with this enigmatical answer, Anchorville had to be satisfied.
Down the Bay of Fundy sped the little vessel under all sail—four lowers, balloon and staysail. Once outside in open water, Simons informed the curious crew of his mission, and McDonald supplied details. They took the news easily, as if a trip to the south’ard of Cape Horn were an ordinary “shacking” trip to Brown’s Bank. “If Bartley Simons was going, they would go!” And the Roberta S., with McDonald laying the courses, swept hot-foot through her old jogging territory off Cape Sable and swung her nose for the Western Islands and the North East Trades.
Since they left the Nova Scotia port for their long trip to the south’ard McDonald’s mind was in a state of unrest. He would sit for hours upon the cabin lockers, smoking, and with a face puckered in anxious thought. One night he unburdened his mind to Simons.
“Skipper,’' said he. “I’m afraid we may have a tussel ter git them skins.”
“How’s that?” exclaimed the other in surprise.
“Well,” replied McDonald slowly, “I’m thinkin’ there are others after them. It’s only fair ye sh’d know. You’re puttin’ up th’ schooner an’ th’ money an’ standin’ th’ biggest loss ef we don’t git them. Ye see, when T got paid off from that schooner I went ashore with Barney Olsen, her skipper, an’ we got tanked up together. Now I hev a faint idea that I talked a bit too much to that joker. He’s a quick-witted devil an’ can see through a bollard further than most people. Now, jest afore we sailed, I looks up a Halifax paper an’ sees this little paragraph. Here it is:
“The sealing schooner Topsail Belle, recently home from a successful voyage in the Indian Ocean, has left again for the Falklands and the sealing territory around the Crozets and Kerguelen Islands. On being asked by our correspondent the reason for such a quick return after a two week’s stay in port Captain Olsen stated that as sailing was so good lately in the Southern Ocean, he wished to make but one more voyage and settle down ashore. For the past week, the Topsail Belle, has been on the railway, and was thoroughly overhauled and recoppered. She carries five men of her former crew.”
“Well?” queried Simons, “what d’ye think?” “What do I think?” reiterated McDonald. “I think
that Barney Olsen is at present slammin’ th’ Topsail Belle, fur Deception Island as hard as she kin go. He ain’t goin’ to no Crozets nor Kerguelen Islands. Sealin’ war nawthin’ extraordinary last v’yge, an’ furthermore, he niver intended to leave Halifax so soon. I know why he left. I opened my silly mug, an’ he got wise. Curse him!”
“Hugh! That’s a nice thing ter tell me arter we’re well on our way. Sh’d I turn back?”
“Turn back be damned!” cried the other. “We’ll git them skins, never fear, even ef I hev ter kill Olsen an’ his crowd ter git them—th’ thievin’ beach-comber! He’s only got a week’s start o’ us, an’ his schooner ain’t any better at sailin’ than this vessel. Slam her ahead an’ don’t worry.”
HAVING, as it were, shared his depression with Captain Simons, McDonald began to get optimistic, and under his influence the other forgot the ominous import of the intelligence.
From then on it was drive, drive, drive. Down the Northeast Trades, through the Doldrums, over the Line and the Doldrums again, and into the steady blow of the Southeast Trades, the gallant little fishing schooner went, and, taking to her new traverses like an old deep-water clipper, she reeled off the knots in great style. Being easy and quick to handle, she made smallbones of the fluky cat’s paws common to the Doldrum latitudes and drifted like a ghost with the least flicker of a breeze.
In the steady, blue-skied Trades she scurried along with balloon, maintopmast staysail and gaff-topsails set, while her crew would read the trailing patent log with wondering eyes and swear that “it beat fishin’.” A pampero off the Rio de la Plata caught her with kites up and for a few minutes there was some excitement as she rolled half her deck under water, but before she had drained the water off her, it had passed and all was sunshine again.
Forty days from Anchorville the Roberta S. made the East Falklands and stood in for Port Stanley. Arriving in the harbor, tenanted by a large fleet of schooners, store hulks, and a dismasted sailing ship, McDonald and Simons slung a banker’s dory over the side and rowed ashore. In an hour they were back with a dory load of provisions. -
“H’ist th’ dory in, fellers!” yelled Simons. “Git the anchor up! Up on her fores’l there!”
All hands tallied to the fores’l halliards, and after jiggling up the sail as taut as a board, the windlass brakes were pumped with frenzied energy. Scarcely stopping to seize the anchor, the schooner was jibed and ran out of Port Stanley harbor under her foresail and jumbo.
“What’s th’ racket, Skipper?” queried Tom Slocum. “That other schooner, th’ Topsail Belle, jest left here a couple of days ago. Git th’ muslin on her an’ don’t stan’ gapin’ thar’! Hustle, fellers! Up on yer mains’l an’ jib. Look alive!”
DY DINT of much -*-* strenuous exertion and bad language, in twenty fninutes the little schooner was “dressed” and racing through the long graygreen rollers like a blooded horse. McDonald paced the weather quarter with an anxious eye to leeward, while Simons sat astride of the wheel-box and steered, his leathern jaws working spasmodically upon a quid of niggerhead.
“Here’s where we’re goin’ ter git some weather, Simons,” remarked McDonald. “Southern Ocean weather—wind an’ seas!” Simons spat carelessly.
“Huh! I guess me’n th’ boys ain’t scared o’ th’ Banks in winter, we kin stan’ any weather anywhere. I cabíate ef we kin stan’ anythin’ we git down hereabouts. Bill Simons, come aft an’ relieve wheel! Sou’west b’ south.”
They got weather as McDonald prophe-
sied. Leaving the Falklands astern, the wind hauled ahead and stiffened, and before nightfall the Roberta S. was ratching down the parallels to a buster from the southward and bucking over tremendous seas. The light sails were taken in, and all through the night they kept driving into the gale, which hauled more to the westward as the Horn was opened out.
The fisherman regarded the huge seas with no signs of consternation, and even when the little vessel was performing antics among the overfalls of the Burwood Bank, they grudgingly “allowed it wuz a bit worse than th’ tide rips off’n Brier Island.” The swing of the Westerly and the Pacific Antarctic Drift coming around the Hom and meeting the seas flying south with the prevailing Norther on the Atlantic coast of South America caused these dangerous overfalls—great combers with breaking crests—and many a good ship has been sent to the bottom by them.
Before many hours among them the crew of the Roberta S. were forced to admit that they had never seen seas like them before. The wind forbade the mainsail, and the banker’s riding-sail had to be hoisted, while the foresail was double reefed. Heavy seas broke aboard, flooding the decks and streaming down into forecastle and cabin. Men had to be careful in going aft or forward, and the two at the wheel were lashed to the wheel-box. By daylight it was too much for her, and Simons sung out:
“Come on, fellers. Douse that jumbo an’ riding sail, we’ll hev ter heave her to.”
WHILE endeavoring to haul down the riding sail, McDonald and Slocum were caught by a big sea which broke over the bow, and under a ton of water, were washed into the belly of the sail. Enveloped in the slack, smothering canvas and the water contained in it, the two men had a narrow escape from being drowned.
“By th’ ’Tamal Thunder!” cried McDonald, when he recovered his breath, “I’ve had many a close call, but I’ll be darned ef I ever was nearly drowned in th’ belly o’ a sail!”
“Ha! ha!” laughed Simons when they came aft. “Sailed th’ seas to be drowned in a ditch, or rather a sail! That’s a new one on me!”
She was hove-to for ten hours, wheel lashed, and all hands essaying to stay in their bunks below, while the schooner reeled drunkenly over the mighty combers. By the time she had drifted to leeward of the Bank the seas eased down and sail was made again.
For fourteen long and weary days they drove to the southward, clawing on long tacks into south and southwesterly gales. With the pitching and tossing, the cold, and the almost continual rain, all hands were beginning to weary of the voyage, and it came as a pleasant break in the monotony when one of the crew, who had climbed to the fore cross-trees, sung out:
McDonald stumbled up the cabin companion— the sleep still in his eyes.
“Where away?” he bawled.
“Two p’ints off’n port bow!”
“All right,” said McDonald. “That sh’d be Livingstone Island. Keep her as she goes.”
The schooner raised the land rapidly, and as the sun rose it illuminated the gray, sterile cliffs and rocks to port. Upon them the mighty billows of the “Forties,” burst and thundered in acres of foam, while, as the mists of the chilly Antarctic morning dissipated, the loom of a high, snow-covered mountain could be seen. McDonald recognized the place at a glance.
“That’s Livingstone Island, boys. We won’t be long now afore we make our destination. How’s she headin’ now?”
“West - sou’ - west,” answered Simons from the wheel.
“Keep her so!” And the red-headed navigator busied himself in taking a four-point bearing
Deception Isla»d lies in latitude sixty-two degrees, fifty-six minutes South, and
longitude sixty degrees, thirty-three minutes West, and is one of the South Shetland Archipelago. The island is of volcanic origin and of the horseshoe shape peculiar to the atolls of the South Seas. Composed of a vast heap of lava rocks, boulders and ashes, the island rises sheer, forbidding and gaunt looking, and upon its precipitous cliffs the long seas of the Southern Ocean fume and rage in acres of white water. Sterile, blasted and dead, it is the home of countless penguins that march up and down the cliffs and ledges in regiments and render the region melancholy by their weird and peculiar cries. On the scant rocks that fringe the island at certain spots the Cape Horn seal disports himself with herd or family, and in the darkness of the Antarctic winter the drifting bergs and floes reel and grind on the iron rocks as they swing north on the flood of the Drift.
The interior of the island is a vast, placid lagoon, undisturbed by the strong gales of the high latitudes and completely rimmed in by the stark cliffs. Close ashore there is a depth of thirty fathoms, but no sounding-line has yet plumbed the depth in the centre. Vessels entering this silent lake come in through a narrow channel—a break in the island’s rim—taking care to avoid a spur of sunken rocks on the port hand. These rocks were the doom of McDonald’s vessel on his former voyage to the island.
As this passage is but a cable’s length in width and but a cleft in the cliffs, it is hard to discern from seaward. Thus the name—Deception Island.
It was dark when the Roberta S., with McDonald conning her, passed Sail Rock and ran down to leeward of nature’s monumental deceit. Hauling their wind, they worked in \to the entrance of the lagoon, hove the anchor over in twenty fathoms. Instead of chain cable, the eight-inch manila fishing hawser was bent on— “for good an’ sufficient future reasons,” the enigmatical McDonald explained.
. When the cabin clock of the Roberta S. pointed to the hour of midnight, McDonald called all hands aft. The schooner was rolling slightly to the long swell in the lee of the island, and the water chirped and gurgled around her rusty, sea-washed hull. The gang came down into the cabin, quietly and like shadows.
“Now,” said McDonald softly, when all were assembled, “the other craft may be inside that lagoon, an’ she may not. She may have reached the island an’ cleared out again, but I don’t think so, as we must ha’ bin on her heels all th’ way from th’ Falklands. I have a hunch that she’s inside thar’, as they’ll spend some time searchin’ fur that cave among them bouldeis. Ef she ain’t thar’, it’ll be plain sailin’ for us, but I’ll lay my hat that she is.”
The red-haired man paused and gave a glance at the clock.
“Th’ skipper an’ I hev a plan which we’ll carry out to-night without any delay if we mean ter git what we’ve come for. Cookie and Morris ’ll stand by th’ vessel here. The rest of us’ll take two dories an’ go inter th’ lagoon. Ef the other vessel is layin’ there,
we’ll board her an’ try ter work her outside here. Git th’ hatches off, sails loosed an’ halliards clear. We’ll hev ter do some spry work, maybe.”
The men nodded, voicing their endorsement of the plan by stolid grunts.
“How about guns?” queried Sam Johnson. “Them sealer fellers are all armed.”
McDonald opened a locker and produced three revolvers, while the Skipper drew two repeating rifles from under his bunk mattress.
“They’re all loaded,” said McDonald. “Th’ Skipper an’ I will take a revolver each—Johnson kin take the other. Slocum an’ Corby kin take th’ rifles. You other fellers kin use what ye like. Come on, now, man th’ dory tackles an’ git two dories over.”
Simons tumbled into one dory with three of the gang, while McDonald commanded the other with Johnson and Slocum. Hearts beating hard with excitement, they pulled over the long swells for the entrance —McDonald leading to show the way. As the passage was to leeward, it was sheltered from the heavy swells which thundered on the western shores of the Island, and they had no difficulty in working through.
“Now, fellers,” cried McDonald softly, “pull strong an’ quiet, for ef they sh’d hear us, we’d be shark’s meat in two shakes. Ef they’re here at all, they’ll be up at Pendulum Cove, three miles up ter starboard. Give way!”
Silently, lik;e a flotilla of ghosts they pulled the long miles up through the quiet darkness of this curious inland lake. Outside, the thunderous roar of the surf came but as a low murmur, while the eery silence of the crater pool was broken only by the muffled crank of the oar-locks through the night. Overhead, the stars blazed with the scintillating glitter of the high latitudes, and the gaunt cliffs were shadowed in somber black on the waters—the star reflections dancing in the eddies left by the boats. '
“She’s there!” came in an exultant hiss from McDonald. “They’ve lit a fire on th’ cliff. Easy as ye go, boys.” Simons pulled up.
“What d’ye intend to do?”
“You board her to port an’ batten th’ gang down in her foc’sle, an’ I’ll attend to the afterguard. Make no noise, an’ keep well in th’ shadow o’ th’ rocks. Give way!”
And McDonald breathed a prayer for success.
npHE lookout man upon the Topsail Belle was sleepy A and leaned against the foremast, his pipe between his mouth. With eyelids as heavy as lead, he shivered and closed them at intervals.
As they gazed with hazy eyes at the fire on the bank of the lagoon he sprang into momentary wakefulness on hearing a slight splash, but with a muttered “Dam’ sea-lion havin’ a bath!” he relapsed into a semi-somnolent state. The tired feeling began to take complete possession of him, while the snores of the foc’sle gang, coming up through the open scuttle, acted as a lullaby upon the watchman’s soporific nerve, and stowing his pipe inside the furl of the foresail, he crossed his arms and found a soft streak in the mast for his back.
When he awoke again, it was suddenly and with a smothering sensation. Regaining his faculties, his slow mind took in the fact that a heavy hand had him by the throat and a voice was hissing in his ear.
“Make a sound, yuh swab, and I’ll coke ye!” He opened his mouth to shout, but a plug of balled up marline filled his facial orifice, and he was unable to utter a sound. Gently but with tremendous strength, his assailant bore him to the deck and, casting off a coil of halliard, lashed him from neck to heels in the strong hemp rope.
“Got th’ beggar fast?” inquired a hqarse voice. .
“Aye, for stfre,” answered McDonald oat of the gloom. “He’s sarved with good foretops’l halliard from head t’ foot, an’ a hank o’ mousin’ in his mug ter keep him quiet. ■ Draw that
Continued on page 57
A Skin Game at Deception Island
Continued, from page 10
foc’sle hatch, there, Corby, an’ stan’ by it with yer gun. Slocum kin do th’ same aft.”
Silent forms flitted around the sealing schooner’s decks in stockinged feet, and McDonald peered down the open hatch, feeling with his hands.
“They’re all aboard,” he whispered to Simons.
“They must ha’ found th’ cave without any trouble.
“Now, fellers, we’ve got ter git th’ fores’l on her an’ git outside with th’ little air blowin’ down th’ lagoon.” “How about the anchor?” growled a man. “There’s three turns o’ chain around th’ windlass an’ a good pile in th’ box. We can’t start hauling all their cable over th’ windlass ter let it go!” “Come for’ard with me,” replied McDonald.
“There’s a shackle at fifty fathoms. He ain’t got any more than forty paid out here, so overhaul th’ cable until ye come to th’ shackle an’ knock it out. Lively, there, lively!”
WITH the clank and clatter of the chain cable rumbling over the ironshod windlass barrel, and the horrible creaking from the foresail blocks as the throat and peak halliards were manned, the captives below awoke to sudden activity and commenced to hammer on the drawn scuttles.
“What’s th’ row?” roared a deep voice, which McDonald recognized as that of Olsem, the skipper. “Open th’ hatch, Jim!”
Jim was unfortunately unable to reply, but McDonald answered. “Good mornin’, Cap’n Olsen, an’ how’s yer liver this mornin’?”
“Who th’ hell’s that?” cried Olsen in surprise.
“Why, who sh’d it be but Danny McDonald come aboard for a social call an’ ter git th’ seal pelts he told you about up in Halifax. Oh, but it’s you that is th’ wily bird, Captain Barney Olsen! Ye put great credit in th’talk o’ drunken men. Well, thank heavin, I kin remember who I was drinkin’ with, an’ git busy on my own hook.” And while McDonald was jibing his late skipper, the schooner was gliding, ghostlike, for the passage.
“Say, Mac,” cried Corby from for-ard, “they’re startin’ ter break th’ foc’sle scuttle. What shall I do?”
“Give ’em a hail, an’ shoot through th’ door!”
Corby carried out his instructions, and silence reigned forward. Not so, aft. Here the hunters berthed and had their rifles, and, after their first surprise, they commenced firing indiscriminately through skylight and planking—making things unpleasant for those on deck. McDonald at the wheel began to get desperate and sang out:
“Cap’n Olsen, hold on a minute!” “Aye!” growled a voice, while the firing stopped.
“I jest want ter say that ef we hev any more signs o’ resistance from youse fellers or any more shootin’, I’ll pile this schooner on th’ rocks an’ set fire to her! An’ furthermore, I’ll take all yer boats an’ leave ye on this blasted island to die like rats! I mean what I say, an’ by God, I’ll carry it out!”
A long silence ensued after McDonald proclaimed his threat, and, the breeze
freshening with the dawn, they made a successful run through the passage. Meanwhile, Simons and the others were busily engaged in getting the sealskin pelts upon deck.
Swinging around the point to the eastward of the island, they ran down on the Roberta S., as she rode to her anchor. “Stand by!” yelled McDonald.
By a piece of smart seamanship on his part, they ran alongside the fishing schooner and, cutting the foresail halliards, Simons had the sail down by the run. On the shout from Mac, the cook and Morris caught a rope and made it fast to the Roberta’s forebits. The Topsail Belle swung around and both schooners lay bow to bow, as, creaking and grinding, they surged into the long easterly swell.
WITH feverish haste the Roberta’s crew began to load the bundles of pelts aboard. Sweating and panting in a chilly air, they labored like Titans to get the valuable spoil out of the sealer’s hold. The banging of rifle-butts against the hatches and the shouts of the prisoners started afresh and acted as incentives to fiercer exertions. A voice cried out from below.
“Mac! You’ve got th’ upper hand. Lft’s divide th’ skins an’ call quits.” “No, no, Captain Olsen!” answered McDonald sarcastically. “You’re too kind. They belong ter me an’ my friends, an’ why sh’d I give you any? Besides, seals are plentiful around th’ Crozets an’ Kerguelen. Arter ye’ve made a trip thar ye’ll make yer fortune an’ settle down ashore. Them’s yer own words to th’ noospaper in Halifax. No, no, me bird! I’ll take ’em all—ye’ll be able ter catch us easy when ye’re flyin’ light.”
A volley of impotent curses greeted this sally, and Mac laughed easily.
While the last bundles of pelts were being hove aboard of the Roberta, McDonald went around the sealing schooner with an axe. With a blow he smashed the compass to flinders, and striding to the mainsail halliards, he cut them and hauled the ends through the blocks. The main-sheet he chopped through in several places, and a few telling cuts put the wheel-gear out of business. Simons, with a fisherman’s bait-knife, severed the forestaysail halliards and cut all the lanyards of the standing rigging.
When the last bundle was hove aboard, McDonald yelled:
“For th’ vessel, now, fellers! Jump!” With a rush the fishermen piled aboard of the vessel.
“Up on yer foresail!” yelled Simons, and McDonald with the axe cut through the manila fishing hawser and cast the Topsail Belle adrift.
The sealing schooner had drifted to leeward but a scant hundred yards, when a mob of men poured out of her cabin with yells and curses of rage. Olsen stood up on the cabin and, grasping a gun, opened fire.
Bang! Bang! Zip! Zip! and the bullets began to chip and splinter on the Roberta’s rail and cabin trunk. The gang were hauling up the foresail, when the fusillade commenced, and McDonald was at the wheel.
“Belay yer halliards!” he commanded.
“an’ lie down. We’ll soon git out o’ their
With the foresail half-way up the mast and bulging like a balloon, they ran down the Straits to the eastward, McDonald sitting on deck beside the wheel, steering.
For a moment the firing stopped, and Simmons looked cautiously over the rail.
“They’ve tumbled in to the dories, and are pulling like the very devil after us!” McDonald glanced hurriedly around. “Boys!” he said. “We’ll hev ter git that fores’l an’ mains’l up.” In spite of the occasional bullets which bit the woodwork around the fore and main masts, the gang managed to haul the sails up, and wing and wing they ran before the wind, quickly leaving the dories astern.
Standing alongside the wheel-box, McDonald watched them stop rowing, and waving his hand derisively to Captain Olsen, who was standing up in the bow of the foremost dory, he shouted: “Good-bye, Barney!”
HE WAS about to say something more, but a well-aimed bullet from the enraged Olsen’s rifle missed his head by a hair’s breadth and ripped through the mainsail.
“Damn!” growled Simons. “It ain’t safe to palaver with these jokers. That was a narrow shave.”
“Ho! ho!” laughed McDonald in great glee. “Cleaned out, by Godfrey! ’Twill take them half a day ter_ reeve that runnin’ gear again, an’ I’m thinkin' they’ll have ter steer home by starlight or a codhauler’s nose. Ef they git their vessel fixed by ter-morrer, they’re doin’ well. I cut th’ taykles—”
“And I put a shot through th’ bottom o’ their boats afore I left,” exclaimed Corby modestly.
“And I,” cried Simons, “cut all th’ lanyards o’ th’ riggin.”
“Ho! ho! ha! ha!” McDonald rolled over the wheel-box in paroxysms of laughter. “What a mess for sure. I’ll hev that yarn published from Cape Town to Labrador—Captain Barney Olsen an’ his sealskins, or a skin game at Deception Island!” Becoming serious again, he said: “Well, boys, give her all she’ll carry —we ain’t out o’ th’ bush yet. With sich a crowd aboard, he’ll be after us hotfoot, an’ ef he kin catch us, we’ll see th’ lid o’ Davy Jones’ locker open’n’ for us. Now, that beggar’ll figure out that we’ll swing off for Cape Town an’ land th’ catch there, but I know a company in Monte Video that’ll buy our cargo, so I reckon we’d better shape for there. What d’ye say, Simons? Monte Video an’ home?”
“Monte Video, an’ home it is!”
THIRTY-FIVE days later, a rusty, seaworn schooner let go her mud-hook in the Inner Anchorage at Monte Video, and McDonald and Simons went ashore. A sale was made and each man pocketed a draft for a handsome amount. Simons and McDonald drew some thirty thousand dollars each out of the adventure, while the men were highly satisfied with a trifle over four thousand apiece. They stayed but a short time in the South American city—long enough to procure fresh water and provisions—and early one morning a small fishing schooner, manned by a crew of wealthy men, stole across the turbid waters of the Rio de la Plata on the long trail for home.
Needless to say, Anchorville gossip was busy. The Roberta S. had been reported as arriving at Monte Video and diligent inquiry had failed to solve the mystery. When the report came from the light-house at the entrance to Anchorville Bay that the Roberta S. was passing in, the town flocked to the wharf. Shabby, rusty and scarred with the winds, seas and suns of the waters in which she had sojourned, she rounded up to the wharf with Bartley Simons to the wheel.
Scarcely had the lines been slipped over the bollards, when the little vessel was invaded by all Anchorville and questions flew thick and fast. In answer to excited inquiries Simons with an enigmatical smile remarked that he was engaged “in a skin game at Deception Island!” and with this, the Anchorville gossip had to be satisfied. Simons had retrieved his ill-luck; his crew were discussing investments in farms and schooners, while McDonald of the flamboyant hair was going home to the old folks, with money to burn.