BERTRAND W. SINCLAIR
The first part of this serial told how Johnny Akhorn, hired to skipper a "pleasure cruise," finds himself in suspicious company. Halted by the Fafnir, whose commander he knows is a crook, Johnny scents piracy. Now go on with the story
THE absurdity of swearing into empty space choked Johnny’s profanity but did not allay his impotent rage. He looked down at the food and bedding, across at the mainland, blue on the horizon, at Vancouver Island standing in bold contours against the morning sky.
Down the seaway between him and those far headlands ships did pass, but never within miles of Sentinel Island. It was off the coastingsteamer track. Once in a blue moon some deep sea fisherman might haul into the lee of Sentinel. Weeks could go by without sight of a sail or the
smoke pennant from a funnel, and very frequently did.
To cross that thirty miles of open water a man needed a stanch boat to embark on. Any craft he could devise without tools would be the equivalent of suicide. He was properly marooned. He could build a signal fire and wait: nothing more.
All this flashed through Johnny’s mind. Then he set out—as probably every mariner has done since the first castaway—to stride along the beach, hoping against certainty for some way out of his plight.
Three hundred yards along he climbed over a ledge at the end of the bay and found Bob Gentry sitting on his haunches on the beach, his head in his hands. A little beyond Gentry, on some dry moss under a leaning tree, two figures huddled under an outspread overcoat.
Johnny’s heart jumped. The thing assumed different proportions. He wondered if Jess was one of those figures. —if Dewey, McNaughton, et al., had made a clean sweep of the entire West by . North party and crew. Mentally .Johnny was prepared for anything now. But he didn’t stand to reflect on this. He hopped off the ledge and as Gentry started at the thud of his feet Johnny demanded: “What happened?”
Gentry looked at him blankly. His tone was peevish when he answered: • /
“How the hell do I know? Where did you come from? Where’s the yacht—and how did we get here?”
“Don’t you know how you got here?” Johnny asked. “Would I be asking if I did?” Gentry snarled. “Damn it! I woke up here a few minutes ago. The girls haven’t come out of it yet. What’s been pulled oft? That’s what I want to know. I feel as if I’d been doped.”
So did Johnny when he was reminded—although he had only a theoretical knowledge of “dope.”
“I wonder what’s the idea?” he said presently.
“Search me,” Gentry growled. “Have you any idea who would stick us ashore on a desert island, and why?” Johnny shook his head.
“We’re here, that’s all I know,” he said. “I guess we better look around and see if there’s any more of the crowd.”
He cast a look at the sleeping girls.
“I shook ’em,” Gentry caught his glance. “They’re dead to the world. I guess they’ll come out of it after a while. What the deuce are we going to do?”
“Don’t know,” Johnny answered laconically. “Figure something, maybe, by and by.”
“We’ll have to figure on eating, won’t we?” Gentry inquired. “Unless that yacht turns up right away.” “She’ll be back in two weeks,” Johnny told him calmly. “Somebody left me a note to that effect.”
“Two weeks!” Gentry echoed. “Good Lord! What’ll we live on for two weeks?”
“They left grub and blankets,” Johnny said.
Gentry brightened perceptibly.
“Oh, well,” said he, “I don’t get the idea, but so long as we don’t have to live on clams and seaweed—
“I’m going alongshore to have a look-see,” Johnny declared. “You better stay here. These girls will probably throw a fit when they wake up.”
“All right,” Gentry agreed. “I don’t feel much like hiking anyway.”
Johnny left the bay and the beach behind, crossed the northern end of the island, traversed the western shore where the ocean rollers broke thundering in lines of white foam. He completely encircled the island in less than an hour, no wiser for his pains, with no light onjÿs problem. There was no sign of habitation, no life on thb island save the gulls and the shore birds, himself and Bob Gentry and the two girls.
He found this trio investigating the food boxes on his return. He told them briefly where he had been,^ what the situation was, and the outlook. The language those two young women used rather startled Johnny. They grew more subdued in their expressions when their mouths were filled with food. They were as much in the dark as he. Not one of them voiced any theory whatsoever as to why they had been set ashore.
They looked across at the blue loom of Vancouver Island and asked Johnny petulantly how they were going to get home. And Johnny, because he was smarting under the loss of his ship after he had been warned that he might lose her, tartly replied that they knew the way as well as
he. Whereupon Betty Marr smiled and told him not to be an old bear and Ellen pertly observed that since she had to be marooned on a desert island she was glad there was a man around—and showed her fine white teeth at Gentry when she said it.
Gentry said very little about the fix they were in. During the rest of that day Johnny found time to wonder at the philosophic calm exhibited by that capable youth.
Johnny was neither calm nor philosophic. He boiled within. He was responsible for his command and he had let a gang of pirates appropriate his vessel. How could he go back to his employer with such a tale—if the West by North were beached or burned or taken by customs or revenue officers in some unlawful venture?
No, Johnny, brooding on a log in the sun, was anything but calm. Still he was keen enough to wonder about Gentry’s attitude. Gentry was capable. When they had thoroughly canvassed the situation and talked it out they had finished a pick-up breakfast. Then Gentry observed that since they were and might be there for some time they had better make themselves comfortable. It might rain, he observed, cocking a weather eye aloft. He proceeded to hunt driftwood along the beach, slabs, pieces of board. Out of these he fashioned a lean-to shelter that would keep them and their food dry. He portioned out the blankets, one pair each.
The more Johnny observed Robert Gentry the more sure he became that Gentry knew a little more about this episode than he would tell. The everlasting why nagged at Johnny. It was rather peculiar, he decided, that they would put a sleeping man ashore—and leave him armed.
Johnny Akhorn had the trained seaman’s faculty of observing detail. The bulge under Gentry’s left armpit, ^showing under his shirt as he stooped about the fire and •V about his work, spelled “revolver” to Johnny. He had carried a gun strapped under his left arm himself, once upon a time.
He had another worry that he tried to keep out of his mind, but which didn’t make him kindly toward the idea that this was something of a lark—as Betty and Ellen "finally agreed. His crew was able to look out for itself, singly or collectively. But thè idea of Jessie Allen alone /on the WPSI by North with Dewey Saunders was not exactly a pleasing one.
He tried to tell himself that it she was there she wanted to be. When he took that tack with himself he would uneasily recall the trace of apprehension in her tone when she said: “If he takes the ship he might take me. too.”
Evidently he ha . Joluuif chalked up another item on the debit score against the Fafnir’s crew, and B
Jessop Allen, whose intimate connection with Dewey Saunders had got him into this mess.
All that day Johnny moped about, racking his brain in useless speculation. He watched the sun go down, helped to cook supper and ate in comparative silence, being intermittently chaffed by Betty Marr for his lack of spirits in such good company. Dusk fell. Johnny set to and built a great fire on the beach against Gentry’s protest that there was no use burning all the dry wood in sight—they might need it to cook with.
“Maybe you figure on staying here a long time,” Johnny said pointedly. “I don’t.” Gentry said no more about wasting wood.
Above them the arched sky gleamed with stars. The dirge of the ground swell lifted across the island. Ellen drew closer to Gentry. He put out his hand invitingly and she cuddled her head down in his lap. Johnny got up and found himself a log on the beach, sat there gazing moodily off-shore. Presently Betty Marr joined him.
“Three’s a crowd at the fire now,” she pouted. “Are you really as sore on life as you seem, Captain John Akhorn? Couldn’t a fellow cheer you up?”
A fellow couldn’t, it seemed. Johnny was in certain respects a singularly one-ideaed young man. With his mind full of his stolen ship and Jess e Allen, even so undeniably attractive a girl as Betty Marr didn’t stir him by manifest complaisance. In fact, for some inscrutable reason, Betty’s dead set at him only made him wary. He talked little and said less. And finally the girl, with a self-conscious little laugh, left him to his own thoughts.
JOHNNY kept to his log for a long time. Time grew meaningless to him in his self-communing. He didn’t think about the hour, even when he went back to the fire to find the castaways had gone to bed.
His own blanket was folded by the dying embers. But sleep was far from him. He squatted on his heels for a while staring into the red coals. Then he wandered, restless in mind and body, northward to the ledge that marked the end of the beach and sat there to watch a fat white moon slide up from behind the Coast Range and lay a band of silver across the
Brooding in the night, his eyes longingly on the moon path, he let the minutes slip past unheeded. He didn’t know how long he sat like that; he didn’t care; hours didn’t count. Time was nothing to him while his brows puckered in thought, and his eyes followed the undulations of the ground swell down the highway of the moon.
Suddenly, far out, he saw something lift momentarily, vanish in a hollow, lift again on a smooth crest. Johnny straightened up. His first inclination was to whoop; his afterthought to keep silence. For his second glimpse of that dim object told him it was a boat, a small boat, with a bit of canvas spread to catch the faint offshore airs.
He looked at his watch —two a m. He had been keeping lonely vigil four hours. He hadn’t been conscious of praying, but this did seem like an answer to prayer.
He waited what seemed an age. The boat Came on so slowly. Only the faintest breath of wind stirred and that only in fitful
puffs. As the small craft drew up he could see the listless flap of the canvas; he could see the flash of wet oar blades rising and falling in the hands of a solitary figure.
It drew near enough at length for Johnny to see that it was a very small boat indeed to come out of that waste of open water—a broad-beamed tender not over fourteen feet long. .
A hundred yards off the beach the oarsman rested on his blades. Johnny had the uneasy sense of a moment of indecision about landing. And the fellow must land. By hook or by crook, he, Johnny Akhorn, must get that boat. In another minute Johnny would have been in the water swimming out. But the oars dipped again. Slowly the little boat nosed in to the sand a few yards from where Johnny stood.
The moonlight was like bleached sunshine. He could see quite plainly. And he stood still for a moment, his heart thumping out of all reason. For the boat was the West by North’s power dinghy. The rower who had come down the moon path across a chancy stretch of open sea and sat now in the midship thwart, a diminutive figure peering fearfully about as if looking for some one, yet fearing to call, was Jessie Allen.
'C'OR all her apparent weariness, Jessie was set on ahain *■ trigger of alarm. When Johnny moved and spoke she lunged instantly on the oars. The boat which rested its forefoot lightly on the beach slid back into deep water.
“Jess,” he called softly. “Come back. It’s me— Johnny.”
She held the blades poised until he came down to the water’s edge where with the moonlight full on him she could see his face. Then she shoved in.
“Where are the others?” she asked in a whisper.
“Get in,” she said. “Let’s get away from here—around the point where he can’t see the boat.”
“Gentry,” she answered briefly—and Johnny stepped aboard.
She let him take the oars. As he rowed she huddled in a heap on the bottom boards. She laid her arms along the gunwale, rested her head on them. When Johnny bleached the tender in a small notch of a cove far past the beach and bay, but still short of the open westerly side of Sentinel, Jessie didn’t stir. She was asleep. He drew the boat up, made the painter fast to a bough, and she still slept.
Johnny stared down at her with strangely mixed emotions. He was eager to know, to ask questions and have them answered. But he knew exhaustion when he saw it.
How far had she come? How long had she been afloat in that cockleshell, alone on the open sea? How had she found her way in the night to Sentinel island without chart or compass? Why was she afraid of Gentry? Why had she come at all?
He gathered her up in his sturdy arms, carried her to a level spot in the dark shadow cast by overhanging trees.
She stirred a little to grasp
Johnny looked at his watch from time to time. He was growing more uneasy. Finally, when daybreak was not far distant, he shook her gently. She opened her eyes, lay gazing up into his face, fully awake.
“How did you manage to get here?” he asked. “Where’s the yacht? And
V J,iAnd everything,” she interrupted in that mocking, tantalizing tone Johnny knew so well.
“I came back for you,” she said presently. “I don’t know where the West by A orth is now, but I have an idea where she will be by and by. Let’s get away from here, Johnny. You should have gone at once instead of letting me sleep. I was so near all in I could not think straight. I went to pieces when you got in the boat.”
“How long were you on the way?”
“Since an hour or so before daylight yesterday morning. I was in the fog for a long time. I thought I’d never get here. I rowed nearly all night.”
“Anything to eat?”
She shook her head.
“I had water. Went ashore and filled a pail just inside Cape Scott. I wasn’t hungry. Too excited, I guess. I’m not very hungry now.”
“You will be. I’ll have to get some grub,” Johnny
lim, to snuggle against him like a small tired child. When he laid her down one hand groped for him, for something, in her sleep, He put his coat over her.
The night was warm He sat there in his shirt sleeves, her dark head pillowed on his knees. ' Her sleep was troubled. Once or twice she muttered. Sometimes her round, elfin face would darken and her lips twist. Once she opened her eyes wide to stare with the unseeing gaze of the somnambulist and said very slowly, emphatically: “No. Not ever. Isn’t that plain enough? Why, I’d as soon be dead—dead.”
said. “And what can we do about these people here?”
“I wouldn’t chance it,” Jess murmured. “We should be able to reach Vancouver Island by night. There must be camps where we can get food. Let’s get away right now, Johnny. Gentry was left here to see you didn’t get away. Ellen is his girl. Betty Marr, I think, only stayed to make the play strong; besides they’re not wanting her aboard. They’re hard boiled, those three. Come on. Never mind food. Let’s be on our way.”
Johnny hesitated. He knew the chances better than she did. They might have to battle a capricious offshore wind. They might be blown to sea. An open boat with neither food nor shelter! They might weather days of storm but they could not live on air and half a pail of fresh water.
Yet he recalled the bulge of the pistol under Gentry’s armpit. If Gentry was there primarily to see that no one left Sentinel Island until the Fafnir crowd had effected whatever undertaking they were bent on, then he had small chance to cope with an armed man. Gentry would probably use his gun and compel Johnny to stand aside while he smashed the boat, if he discovered them there.
And just as that reflection took form in Johnny’s mind, Gentry himself stepped out of the bush, his gun leveled on them.
“Keep still, skipper,” he ordered curtly.
Gentry grinned amiably from a distance of a few feet.
“Hello, little ‘Sunshine,’ ” he greeted.
“How come you butting in on our party?
Betty won’t like it. Didn’t Dewey treat you right?”
Jess didn’t answer.
“Were you fixing to take the captain away?”
Gentry drawled. “I guess we couldn’t all go away in that little boat, so we’d better all stay here. I’ll set her adrift so there won’t be any temptation for any of us to go to sea. Untie that rope, skip.”
Johnny stood still, dumbly stubborn with something akin to murder in his heart. Gentry laughed.
“Oh, all right,” said he. “I can do it myself.
I don’t want to crowd you, Captain John. But don’t forget one thing. You’re not going away from here for a while. If you get gay, I’ll bump you off. See? You get me?”
He thrust out his jaw at Johnny—not with any malice, but with a cold-blooded determination that was more convincing than any amount of bluster.
Then with his gun still covering Johnny he untied the painter, took hold of the bow and thrusting the boat off the beach, gave it a quick shove that sent it sliding free.
Johnny Akhorn, helpless under that pistol, stood watching his only chance of escape drift out to where the tidal flow would seize and carry it derelict upon those wide waters. Beside him the girl stood mute, hands clenched, while Gentry clear limned in the moonlight looked at them with a contemptuous smile.
Something seemed to crack in Johnny’s breast. He wasn’t a foolhardy man; he had never been given to heroic stunts. But he had to do something. And what he did was suddenly to launch himself headfirst at Gentry’s knees, diving under the muzzle of the automatic.
For a man who had never played football Johnny made a beautiful tackle. He was an exceedingly active young man; he was desperate; he weighed probably a hundred and seventy pounds and it was all pliant muscle and springy bone. He brought his man to earth headlong. The crooked forefinger didn’t even convulsively draw the trigger. And Johnny clawed for that gun hand as he had never clawed for a flying rope end in a gale.
He got it, too; doubled Gentry’s arm up, wrenched the gun out of his hand. He struck Gentry once across the head with the weapon as he struggled like a wild cat and a second time for good measure; whereupon Gentry ceased to be a factor in the struggle.
“He’ll be good for a while,” Johnny panted. “Can you use an automatic?”
Jess nodded, held out her hand. He gave her the pistol, cocked.
“Keep a few feet away from him and plug him if he lifts a finger,” Johnny commanded.
With that he plunged boots and all into the sea. Already the tender was forty yards offshore, setting slowly out on a current. In a few strokes Johnny reached her, hauled himself inboard over the stern, shipped oars and rowed her back.
Gentry still sprawled on the sloping ground. Johnny dragged him well above high-tide mark, felt of Jiis heart. There was a flutter there. Gentry breathed.
“I don’t think I cracked his skull, and if I did it doesn’t matter,” Johnny said. “He’s tough and he’ll come out of it. Hop in!”
Jess obeyed. Johnny put the automatic in his pocket.
“I guess we’ve got the top hand now,” he observed. “We’ll get grub and my blanket and be on our way.”
In less than twenty minutes they were clear. There hadn’t been a move or sound from the lean-to when Johnny raided the camp for supplies. Now he pulled steadily on the oars. There was no air to fill the little sail. The ground swell rolled in long slow billows, two hundred feet from crest to crest, cradling them as gently as a mother sways a babe in her arms.
Sentinel lay behind them a dark blot in a silver sea, the only solid bit of the universe in a waste of water spreading away under a moon-shot, star-speckled sky. But Johnny knew that dawn would show Vancouver Island and the farther Coast Range fhint and blue over their bow—unless the Queen Charlotte fog shut down on them.
He rested on his oars at last.
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Enjoy another splendid selection of seasonable fiction including:
“THE CHILDREN’S MOTHER”
By Margaret Culkin Banning.
“RED-HEADED” by Phyllis Duganne.
“CHEAP AT A BILLION” by Allan Swinton.
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“Now, old scout,” he said cheerfully, “what about it? What happened? What became of my crew? I’m bursting to know.”
‘"TpHERE really isn't much to tell.” Jessie rested her chin
A in her palms. “You either knocked out or doped, I suppose—•”
“The only way I could have been doped was from a shot of something in the night lunch,” Johnny remarked. “I’ve wondered about that. Certainly nobody tapped me on the bean.”
“I had gone to bed in the stateroom I shared with Betty Marr,” Jess continued. “Betty sat up reading a magazine. I fell asleep. After a while I woke up. Betty was gone, and the light still burning. I didn’t think anything of that, but when I heard quite a commotion on deck, feet running back and forth, and more or less talk, I slipped on a dressing gown to go up and see what the excitement was.
“You know I’d been uneasy, expecting almost anything to happen. Well, I couldn’t get out. The door was locked. I called. In fact I made quite a fuss. All the satisfaction I got was to be told gruffly to shut up. It was impossible to get out. The door was too strong for me to break down. But the porthole in my stateroom faced on the beach and I saw them lug you down the gangway into the boat. I saw them put in the food and the blankets.
“Betty and Ellen were laughing, so I suppose they were in on the play—how much they know, of course I can’t tell, because I don’t know much myself yet. The fog was very thick. I could hardly see the island. Presently the tender came back.
“I could feel the main engine start. After a while the anchor hoist rumbled. She began to lift and fall and I knew we were under way somewhere.”
“Then what?” Johnny prompted.
“Then Dewey came down and unlocked the door. I warned you, didn’t I, Johnny Akhorn, that he might take your ship and that if he did he might take me, too?”
“Well?” Johnny muttered.
“You had better row, hadn’t you?” she suggested. “You can listen as well.”
“Go on. What next?” Johnny demanded—but he gave way with the oars.
“Well, I suppose he thought he had me,” Jess continued evenly, “and he seemed quite pleased with himself. He gave me to understand that I had fooled around long enough and that as soon as he had attended to some very important business that would put us all on Easy Street he would attend to me—tame me properly, I believe he said.”
She laughed quietly, reminiscently.
“I wonder why men always have to tell women what they’re going to do to ’em?” she said scornfully. “Fools!” “Don’t lump all men together that way,” Johnny growled.
“I don’t include you,” she said quickly, “or I wouldn’t be here.”
“Anyway,” she went on, “he left the door unlocked after he’d made his little boast about having the lugger and girl too. I dressed and went on deck. I’m not stupid, Johnny, even if I often seem a giddy goat. I knew something desperate was on. I was in a pretty desperate personal fix myself, but I’ve known Dewey Saunders a long time and I thought I could handle him if it came to a pinch. But I did want to know where we were headed, what they were up to before I quitted ship.
“You see,” she explained, “I had made up my mind that I was going to get away and sound an alarm that would trap them all, if I had to swim for it. And I had to get my bearings first.
“They had everything running on schedule. Sparks was flinging out signals. The Fafnir engineer was in charge below. Your crew was penned in forward, with Riggs standing guard. The Chink was getting coffee and biscuits in the galley. McNaughton steered.
“I went into the wheelhouse and made myself nice to him—the old pirate! So I got the course and looked it up on the chart without him realizing what I was up to. Dewey was in the deck saloon reasoning with that old stuffed shirt of an uncle of mine, who seemed almost hysterical. He was simply scared stiff at the high-handed way Dewey’s crowd had taken over the yacht. It wasn’t the sort of thing a pseudo respectable broker from Los Angeles wanted to be involved in. I think Uncle Ben has been mixed up in shady deals before now— but always on the safe side—with everything fixed for his own protection, and the other fellow taking the long chances.
“Anyway the yacht was headed due west, straight out to sea. Did you know there was another small island about an hour’s run west of Sentinel?”
“Yes. End of Land, they call it. About ten acres of low rocky ground with a few trees and a spring of water. You can see it from Sentinel on an extra clear day.”
“That’s where they put off your crew. Marooned ’em with a box of grub. It was like a cheap melodrama—they put on handkerchief masks before they drove your three men out into the boat and ashore. Then the West by North doubled back, ran for Cape Scott, rounded it, ran alongshore for a few miles, groped through that dense fog into a bay and dropped anchor. I had to guess the location from her time and course and their talk, and what I could gather from the chart. That was all I had to go by —as a point of departure.
“They were cursing the fog, Dewey and McNaughton and Helby. They were expecting a ship from offshore and reckoning her chance of making that bay in the thick weather. They were in touch with her all the time, of course. And while they were talking—it was about an hour of daybreak—a steam whistle sounded. They whistled back. Immediately there was a discussion as to whether they should go out to meet her or have her come in. Dewey said she had to come in—they couldn’t lie alongside her in the ground swell that ran outside the bay. They decided finally—with the whistles signaling back and forth—to put out in the power tender and board her.
“So they lowered away. In the dark, and that fog and the excitement that took hold of them, they didn’t pay much attention to me, and I was careful to keep out of the way. You see, a man may be perfectly mad about a woman, Johnny—but when his material interests get really important the woman becomes merely incidental."
“That works both ways,” Johnny observed. “It strikes me that it would take a good deal of a man to be much more than a mere incident in your young life.”
“Perhaps. And that’s just as well for me, I guess,” she replied cheerfully. “I’d have been in an insane asylum long ago if I’d taken men seriously. Anyway, there was the tender at the foot of the gangway. Some one had started the motor. It purred away, running idle.
“I’d been nursing one sort of scheme in my mind. I was
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e a d W i n d s
Continued from page 22
bound to get off that yacht as soon as ! possible. I was more afraid of Dewey than of the sea or that wild, unsettled country around Cape Scott. I’d intended to slip over the side some time before daybreak, swim ashore, and trust to luck getting somewhere on foot. I’d picked up a little pocket compass in the saloon. I had matches in a waterproof case, and I knew where there was a little belt axe I could take when I was ready.
“And then for a minute they were all clear of the gangway. There was the tender. A lot of possibilities flash through your mind in a second. I slipped out of the wheelhouse, ran down the gangway, cast off the line and shoved clear.
“It was thick as mud in that bay. You j couldn’t see a boat length. Before you could count five I was out of sight of the yacht. I put the clutch in and headed for the mouth, running by the direction of the steamer’s whistle from outside.
“For a few seconds I could hear ’em shouting and cursing when they missed the tender. I doubted if they could hear the little engine running; it is very quiet. Anyway, I opened up the throttle and let her zip. In a minute I was outside the bay, out of hearing, sliding up and down among those long, slow swells. And I ^ headed for Sentinel, steering a course by the little compass. I was scared, but I was clear of that mess.
“I wasn’t very far out of the bay when I almost ran slap into a ship—the ship they were looking for, I suppose. I heard her give a short blast. It sounded away off. Next thing her bow was right on top of me, looming up like a small cliff. She was barely moving. No noise but the ripple of a little wash.
“I shaved her so close I could see the rivet heads in her plating-—a steel tramp —not very big as tramp steamers go— dirty as sin. The fog wasn’t so thick out there. It was sort of luminous from that big moon. I got away from there quick; dodged off to one side. I don’t think they could make out the boat from the bridge. They might have .heard the motor. I don’t know. It didn’t matter.”
“You couldn’t make out her name, I suppose?” Johnny asked. He was deeply interested, alert to every word.
“Yes. Albacore, of Hongkong.”
“Day broke eventually. I found myself, in the thinning fog, not very far offshore, abreast of what I took to be Cape Scott. I was thirsty, and I thought I’d better get some water in case I was afloat a long time.
“After I’d half filled a pail that was in the boat, I started again. The sun came out strong. The fog cleared altogether. I could see for miles, and there was no yacht in sight, so I decided to make straight for here. The island showed just a little smudge on the sky line. I figured that with the motor I could reach it in four or five hours.
“Somehow, by that time I wasn’t afraid of being followed. I felt sure that steamer was much more important to Dewey than I was. He expected big things in connection with that tramp. They all did. You could tell it in their talk.
“So I barged out on the briny deep, all lit up over this scrape I had got into and was getting out of so nicely. I felt quite like a little heroine. And then the darned engine stopped!
“I tried the starter. It turned her over, but she wouldn’t fire. The spark was all right. Tried the tank. Out of gas. Nothing I could do about that. Nothing but the oars for it. I rowed and rowed. Didn’t seem to get anywhere. What wind there was blew against me. I couldn’t seem to make headway—you never do seem to get anywhere rowing if you’re a long way from shore.
“My hands got sore. My arms got tired. I began to be scared, really. I kept going more or less all day. It got dark. At dusk it seemed to me I was a little nearer, but not much. I kept on rowing. Then when the moon came up the breeze came in little puffs offshore. I got the sail up. I got an occasional glimpse of a light that I l took for your fire on Sentinel.
“And when I’d sailed and sailed forever, it seemed, I finally got sight of Sentinel Island, just a far-off dark patch. The breeze died away to nothing. I had to row and row. That’s all, I guess. I hardly knew whether I was on foot or on horseback when I shoved in on the beach. The
one thing! feared was that Gentry would see ths boat before you did. I knew he was dangerous.”
SHE sat silent, looking eastward to the growing light. The little boat rose and ran briefly on each smooth crest, sank gently into each green hollow.
“Isn’t it lovely—now—away over there?” Jessie murmured.
But Johnny Akhorn wasn’t in a mood to dwell on the beauties of dawn at sea, the play of changing light, the delicate tintings of a morning sky. His mind turned earnestly on practical matters.
“Why did you take a chance crossing to Sentinel?” he demanded. “You could have hugged Vancouver Island up to Goletas Channel much more safely.”
“Of course. But I Wanted you off Sentinel Island, away from Bob Gentry. The West, by North is your ship. It seemed to me you’d be anxious for the first whack at them. You first—then the provincial constables. It will take all the wits available to nail these crooks and put them where they belong. I won’t rest till that’s done.”
There was an inflexible note in her voice, a settled determination when she said that.
“I wonder where they are now?” Johnny speculated.
“I don’t know precisely,” Jess answered. “I think I know where they’re headed.”
Johnny wasn’t stupid.
“They bought my place there. Was that why they were willing to pay a fancy price? So they would have a legal right to use it for some illegal purpose, as a base for some crooked operation?”
“I think so,” Jess answered reflectively. “Although I’m only guessing, because I don’t know what they’re up to yet. I know they bought it. I overheard that discussed pretty thoroughly. Uncle Ben put up the money. Dewey said it was just what they needed as a blind. McNaughton had advised getting hold of the Barrett place before the Fafnir got there. He seemed to know a lot about Hidden Bay.” “He does,’’Johnny informed her grimly. “He ought to. He was partners with a grand old smuggling party called ‘Pirate’ Kelly who hung out in Hidden Bay twenty years back. One of their crowd was killed by a party of Chinamen he was running across the line on a fast launch. Nobody ever plastered Kelly or McNaughton with anything, but they were in on the deal.
“Yes, old Joe knows Hidden Bay and the coast pretty well. Haven’t you the least idea what their game is? Dope, Chinks, whisky running? And you think they’ll head straight for Hidden Bay? Well, it sounds reasonable.”
“That was the object—a place for the Fafnir to sneak in and out of, or to lie up in. Hidden Bay is pretty isolated— more or less inaccessible on account of the tides through that narrow pass. I never could find out what they were up to, but it was something that required an able, roomy boat. I’d got that pretty firmly in mind from listening in on their talk. That’s why, when the Fafnir went up in smoke, grabbing the West by North seemed a natural sequence. They were aboard her and they were pretty desperate over something.”
“They’ve sure taken a desperate chance,” Johnny observed. “They can get twenty years apiece for that. They certainly overreached themselves when they stole an eighty-foot yacht and marooned her crew. They can’t get away with that sort of thing.”
“They have the nerve to try anything,
I think,” Jess reflected. “They’re crooks. And I hate crooks. I’ve had experience with crooks. If I can get clear of this bunch, I’ll try to give ’em a wide berth hereafter.”
“You’re clear now,” Johnny said.
“I am, yes,” she admitted. “But my money isn’t. I don’t care such an awful lot about stacks of money, but a little is handy—in fact, it’s necessary. This money that my father left in trust for me has never done me much good, but the income from it has kept my mother, who is a rather neurotic person with a good many demands in the way of living.
“I think that was the only mistake in judgment my father ever made—leaving that fund in charge of Uncle Ben. I’m quite sure the old false front has got it all, along with the remnant of his own fortune—which was a pretty big one a few years back—in this last gamble, this setting of off-color eggs Dewey Saunders is trying to hatch out.
“I wonder just what is the best way to go about rounding them up?” she askedt after a brief silence.
“Haven’t thought much about that,” Johnny replied. “We want to get in out of this deep stuff. Once inside the north end of Vancouver Island we’ll come across somebody. I’ll get the first fisherman or work boat in sight to run us down to Alert Bay. There’s a provincial constable there that I know of. He’s a pretty wise head. Then we can figure out how to locate the West by North—and the Albacore of Hongkong.”
“I’d like to get Dewey with the goods, whatever they are,” she said frowningly. “He’s gone bad completely.”
“Wasn’t he always that?” Johnny asked.
“No,” she shook her head pensively. “I don’t think so. Still—maybe he was. He seems to be capable of pretty much anything now.”
“He sure does,” Johnny agreed. “Meantime here comes the westerly.”
DAWN had come to full flower while they talked. The heralds of the day had painted the sky every shade from palest pink to ruddy gold, and now the sun stabbed at the sea from behind the distant land with his bright spears.
Far astern a darkening of the waters betokened the coming wind. It ruffled the tops of the swells. It breathed on them gently, a cool breath out of the vast ocean, a breath that presently came in gusty puffs and steadied at last to a breeze that lifted whitecaps here and there. To their tiny craft, running off under a little trysail on a mast no thicker than the shaft of an oar, it was the equivalent of a gale. In an hour that bit of canvas was all she could stand. She ran with a wild swoop before boisterous, high-crested rollers that threatened to fill and swamp her as they lifted and curled and broke with a hiss at her varnished stern.
But she kept afloat. She ran. She carried her little sail bravely. Water came aboard, in spray, in bucketfuls of solid green. Johnny busied himself at the tiller, the mainsheet, which was but a cord, in his hand. Jessie bailed with a biscuit tin. They looked longingly ahead to the land as they rose on each sea. They saw only heaving green, tipped with white, when the tender labored in the trough.
In the end, with Cape Scott abeam, Johnny had to take sail off her. The wind had freshened. Ebb tide against a westerly sea, the currents that swept around that bold headland, made pressure of sail too dangerous.
He took the oars.
Cape Scott fell astern. Johnny watched the beach for a break, a jutting point, a rocky islet, anything that offered a lee and a ehance to land. But there was no break, no opening, until they came to the bay in which Jess surmised the West by Nofth had dropped anchor chat foggy night. The mouth of it was a cable wide. In that mouth, from point to point the full width, the swells reared and broke one behind the other. Inside was shelter, the entrance a watery turmoil.
“W’e’ve got to chance it,” Johnny told the girl. “It’s freshening every minute outside. We could never get over Nawhitti Bar into Goletas Channel if we lasted it out that far. It’ll be fairly smoking on the bar. Hang tight to the boat if she fills or turns over. She’ll float even if she goes awash.”
Jess nodded. She was rather pale, but her dark eyes glowed with something that was certainly not fear as Johnny headed the tender into this line of breakers, easing her, jockeying her, with the oars.
They took a last soaring run on the crest of a roller. When it broke a smother of foam and spray and water leaped bodily over them, filling the boat to the gunnels. The next one tossed them high, swept them with a furious swooshing and drove them, clinging fast, soaked to the skin.
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half strangled, through into a dead swell
that flattened to a ripple on the inner shores.
And as they looked about, sitting in water to their hips in the swamped tender, a man in sea boots and blue jersey clambered hastily into a skiff floating astern of a chunky gray fishing boat and came rowing toward them with hasty strokes and shouts of encouragement.
CAUNDERS himself first noted the disO appearance of the tender from the foot of the gangway. He barked an oath at Helby, who had made it fast there.
“You careless fool!” he bellowed. “You tied the painter so it came loose. Every time you do anything you make a hash of it. Damn you! Get another boat over —quick.”
He peered into the darkness, the opacity rendered impenetrable by the fog. In that murk he could hear faintly the thrumming of the small motor.
“She’s drifting toward the mouth of the bay,” he said and cursed again, commanding them to hurry.
“It couldn’t come loose,” Helby protested, even as he worked to sling another boat out by the davits. “Damn it! I tied that painter with a clove hitch. If it’s loose somebody untied it.”
Dewey, straining his eyes and ears, started. He knew gas engines inside out. Helby’s assertion took on a different color. That faint drumming exhaust suddenly informed him that it was under load, that its speed had accelerated—and that indicated a hand on the throttle.
Even in the few seconds he listened the sound grew more distant. A drifting boat with the engine idling could not draw off so rapidly. He turned, halfway down the gangway to the second boat, already launched, and darted into the deck saloon. Riggs, Helby, McNaughton, Boom and Walter Gage were on deck, by the rail and davits. Sparks was at his wireless. The Chinese cook stood in the door of the galley. The engineer was by his machine. Uncle Ben sat by a table in the saloon, his fleshy chin nestled in his palms, brooding darkly. With the deck and after part accounted for, Dewey dived down among the staterooms, looked in each. He came back to Allen.
“Where’s Jess?” he demanded harshly.
“She was here a minute ago. I think she went into the pilot house.”
“Get busy and find her!” Dewey snarled.
Another minute’s search demonstrated that Jess was no longer aboard—and Dewey faced a savage outburst from McNaughton and Helby, to say nothing of the querulous complaint of the girl’s uncle.
“Blast you!” Helby roared. “She’s away in the tender. The fat’s in the fire now. Swell chance of catching her in the dark and this fog. I told you you had no business mixing a woman in this deal. You boob! You infernal idiot! You’ve been riding me pretty rough, lately, Saunders. If that black-eyed Jane upsets our apple cart I’ll get you if it’s the last thing I do on earth. She’s no fool, that girl, and she’s dead sore at you. She’ll get somewhere, and she’ll holler, and then where’ll we be? Oh, I could bust your thick head wide open!”
“Forget the girl,” McNaughton said flatly. “The Albacore’s outside. Let’s get aboard her and get straightened away. Let the dame go to hell. She don’t know enough to hurt us.”
“Shut up and do what I say,” Saunders faced them down, “or I’ll spill some beans myself. Where can she get to? All this end of Vancouver Island is a wilderness. There isn’t gas enough in the tender’s tank to drive her fifteen miles. We’ll pick her up at daybreak.”
“And we’re to go foolin’ around lookin’ for a girl with the home stretch in sight, eh?” McNaughton growled. “Not if I know it. Let’s get to that ship and be on our way south. I’m in too deep, Saunders, to stand for any foolin’ around over a woman. If you do, you ’n me’ll go to the mat.”
Dewey laughed scornfully at the threat, at all their threats. He defied them, not so much in words as by his manner, his attitude. And this incipient mutiny died away in growls.
THREE of them got into the tender, Saunders, Helby, and McNaughton. McNaughton carried a dunnage bag and a roll of charts in a fibre case. They drove
out into that mist-thickened night where a steam whistle droned at regular intervals. And though they swept—under Dewey’s steering—in a few great circles, straining ears and eyes, even Dewey soon realized that it was a waste of time to look for any one or anything in that shroud of fog and darkness—anything save the vessel whose signals guided them at last to her seaworn side.
A ladder came dangling down in answer to their hail when Saunders laid the tender alongside her rusty plates. She rolled— this Albacore, of Hongkong—with a slow, easy swing in the ground swell. A sailor stood forward heaving the lead, calling the fathoms in a singsong voice. The vessel’s way was killed, but she drifted with the tide and the slow heave of the sea.
Saunders and McNaughton swarmed up the ladder, McNaughton carrying his chart roll, his bag coming later on a rope sling. A small, fat-cheeked man in a dirty uniform called down to them from the bridge. They climbed. He shook hands with Saunders.
“Hellish thick weather to be inshore,” he said curtly. “I don’t like this beach combing. Get me a pilot?”
“Here’s your man.” Dewey waved a hand. “Captain McNaughton, Captain Somers.”
“We’re rather closer to shore than I like,” Captain Somers opined.
“She’s all right as she lies,” McNaughton assured him. “I can take her into that bay with my eyes shut.”
They went into the wheelhouse. Aman stood idle by the steering gear, barely outlined in the dimness above the binnacle lamp.
“Did you hear a small motor launch pass in the last few minutes?” Dewey asked.
“Yes. I thought it was you trying to pick me up.”
“Never mind that dratted tender,” McNaughton said testily. “She’s gone. I tell you you might as well try to catch trout with your hands. Let’s get under way—about our business.”
“Not so fast,” Saunders said coolly. “I’m still running this show, Mr. McNaughton. Don’t forget that.”
“Yeah, you’ll run it into the ground, or the bottom of the sea, if this last break is a fair sample,” McNaughton returned sullenly.
Dewey thrust his face up close to the older man’s.
“You hold up your end,” he said sharply. “Leave the rest to me. I’m competent to see it through. You’ll get your whack if you deliver the goods. If you get to thinking about how much better you could put this through—and fall down—”
He paused suggestively. His tone, his manner, his attitude, constituted a threat. McNaughton didn’t answer. He matched glances with Saunders for a second, and turned away with a shrug of his thick shoulders to unroll his charts on a table. The master of the Albacore stood with hands plunged in his coat pockets, impassively watching this byplay. Dewey turned to him.
“Have you got my freight handy?” he inquired. “I’ll take it now in case of a slip. No use having all the eggs in one basket when it isn’t necessary.”
“I’ll have it slung down to your boat if you say so.”
“Do that,” Saunders nodded.
The man pressed a button. A figure in blue dungarees flitted in. He spoke to them in the curious singsong language of the Chinese. The idle helmsman was a Chinese. So were the deck hands who had manned the ladder and the sailor slinging the lead. On this weather-beaten tramp only the captain, mate, first and second engineers were Europeans. This small, rotund man who commanded the Albacore, of Hongkong, seemed more fluent of speech with his Chinese crew than he did with his visitors.
From a stateroom off the wheelhouse two men presently lugged a square chest wrapped in matting to a set of falls on the boat deck. They slung it deftly and lowered away, Saunders issuing warnings to Helby to be careful, and directions for its stowage amidships.
“McNaughton will take you through,” he said to the captain. “He may steer you into some ugly looking places, but that can’t be avoided. You can depend on him absolutely as a pilot. You can’t enter the bay. We’ll meet you outside,
though, the minute you signal. It is all arranged. Your papers are in order, of course?”
The captain nodded. Saunders said good-by. He went over the rail. As his foot rested on the top rung a faint commotion broke out below, somewhere in the dark bulk of the ship under hatches, a strange mixture of squeal and whine, nasal, prolonged, in various keys and tones.
Somers jabbered something to the nearest deck hand. The man struck sharply with a bit of wood on the deck, twice, staccato taps. The noise ceased abruptly. Saunders smiled to himself as he paused on the ladder.
“Don’t try to get her up to anchorage until we whistle clear,” he called to McNaughton on the bridge above.
“All right,” McNaughton growled. “See that you’re ready when we get there. We may need to make a darned fast transfer.”
“We’ll be ready for you,” Dewey answered. “You can gamble on that.”
When Saunders ran up the gangway Uncle Benjamin came to meet him.
“You see anything of Jessie?”
“No!” Dewey snapped. “Get out of the way. Here—you two get on those falls,” he motioned Riggs and Boom, “and be careful. Get a good solid lashing on that box,” he repeated earlier instructions to Helby in the tender.
He shook off the importuning old man until the chest was safe on deck and the tender hoisted to her chocks. Then he gave ear impatiently. Uncle Ben was pale and shaky.
“My God, Dewey!” he groaned. “I can’t bear to think of that little girl floating around in that fog. Anything might happen to her. What are you going to do?”
“Get under way,” Dewey muttered. He stood running his fingers through a fogdampened tangle of fair hair. “I’ve got to. It’s hell, but it can’t be helped. The darned little spitfire! Things are tightening too fast, Allen. The next forty-eight hours may mean another busted expedition or a hundred thousand clear profit to be divided.
“I was a damn fool to keep Jess aboard. I shouldn’t have tried to mix love and business. It never works. But I’m not going to be a bigger damn fool and lie around here to hunt her in daylight. No. She’ll have co sink or swim on her own.”
The old man looked ghastly in the glow of the saloon lights. His face was worried, nervous. His importance, his pomposity, had fallen away like a worn-out garment. He looked what he was, a rather cowed elderly person who had got in deeper than he liked and was very much afraid. And Dewey, a frown on his handsome face, a hard, reckless look in his eyes, stared at him a moment with utter contempt.
“Too late to get cold feet now,” he grunted. “I’d give half what I expect to make on this deal to have Jess safe aboard —but I can’t waste time looking for her.”
“I wish* to God I’d never seen you, Dewey Saunders!”
“I’d be considerably ahead if you had not,” Dewey flung back at him. “You —you old four-flusher!”
He strode out, called orders to the engineer. Helby and young Gage stood by the winch gear. The anchor chain came rumbling in through the hawse pipe. Dewey tramped on the engine-room gong. The screw turned. The yacht gathered speed, cleared the bay, whistling signals as she bore out; and when she stood clear, Dewey laid a course to the entrance of Queen Charlotte Sound, doubling back into the sea lanes down which she had steamed the last leisurely three weeks.
SOME few days later the tramp steamer Albacore, or Hongkong, duly entered quarantine at William Head, on the south end of Vancouver Island. She steamed in through Haro Strait instead of from the seaward end of Juan de Fuca. Her master explained that heavy weather at sea had forced him into northerly latitudes and he had consequently come up the Inside Passage.
When the Albacore had got a clean bill of health she proceeded to the port of Vancouver to discharge what was a very small cargo even for so small a ship—eight hundred tons of rice.
It was hardly worth coming across the Pacific with, but perhaps a fair cargo could be picked up for the Orient; freights were no longer what they used to be, her master observed to the shipping agent
who handled the shore end of the Albacore’s affairs.
THE gray fish boat nosed out of the nameless harbor in the dawn of the day following that afternoon in which the westerly blew Johnny Akhom and Jessie Allen into its welcome shelter. She was a stanch forty-footer. Forward, a narrowpilot house lifted over engine and steering wheel; amidships a hold with tight, flush hatches; aft a low, short cabin held food lockers, a small galley stove, and two narrow bunks.
In one of these bunks Jess slept the deep slumber of weariness when the launch got under way. She slept through the clank of the incoming anchor chain, the first wheezing turn of the big, slow-speed engine. She sat up suddenly with a start, only when the small vessel lifted to the first swell rolling up from the Pribiloffs; lifted high on a crest and swooped into a vast hollow.
Jessie darted a look out the companionway. She could see the fisherman’s back through a small window in the wheelhouse. Johnny Akhorn sat on the hatch cover, gripping a stay with one hand, nursing his chin with the other, staring across the gray-green undulations of the Pacific; and she smiled, a queer, wistful sort of smile. Then she slipped on her clothes and came out on deck to sit beside Johnny.
“Well, we’re on our way,” she remarked. “Yes, we’ll get to Alert Bay some time this afternoon, with any luck,” he said. “Then what?”
“From there I can use the telegraph to set the provincial constabulary in motion. I can make some arrangement to get my crew off End of Land. After that I can make a start at locating the West by North and this Albacore, of Hongkong,” he said. “Also the coasting steamers call at Alert Bay. You can go home from there.”
She digested this soberly, crinkling her dark eyebrows, glancing at him now and then in a manner that did not altogether indicate pleasure.
“I don’t want to go home,” she said at last. “It hasn’t so much attraction. I have only the clothes on my back. All my things are aboard the West by North. I haven’t a cent. And besides, I want to be in at the death. Uncle Ben and Dewey Saunders have something coming for what they’ve tried to do to me, as well as what they’ve done to you.
“I don’t suppose Uncle Ben has all his eggs in this one basket, but even if he has, if I could get to him before the authorities land him in jail I might pry something out of him. He has charge of over thirty thousand dollars that belong to me. I’m not legally entitled to it—-only the income -—for another two years. He doesn’t propose ever to let me have it. If I could get hold of some sort of club to swing on him — No, I’m certainly not going home— yet.”
“I don’t see what you can do,” Johnny observed. “You can’t run around man hunting, with me.”
“Why not?” she asked calmly.
“I don’t want you to,” Johnny said wearily. “You—you—”
He threw out both hands. He couldn’t put it into words. His memory was too keen for old hurts.
“I suppose you never will forgive me,” the girl said evenly. “Nor ever trust me again. You’re quite convinced that I’m nothing more than a flirtatious little featherhead. After all, I didn’t do much to you, Johnny. I only went about my business—when I had to.”
“If you had business to go about on such short notice, without a word or even a letter of explanation afterward, why did you spend those months playing with me, making me love you, helping me build all sorts of air castles? W'as it just for the fun of kicking them down?” he inquired with a touch of bitterness. “You didn't have to do that. You could have passed me up. You could have played around with mother and Kitty, and let me go right along hand logging, fishing, hunting—all the simple little things that satisfied a half wild twenty-year-old kid like me. But I was the only man handy so you had to have my scalp. Well, you got it. But you can’t get it again. Once is plenty.”
“What became of your mother and Kitty?” Jess murmured. “I’ve wanted to ask.”
“Mother died of penumonia the next year. Kitty got married,” Johnny told her shortly. “That’s why the place went to rack. I couldn't stay there alone. Too
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much like a graveyard. There was noth-
“I didn’t much like going,” Jess said absently. “Yet it seemed—under the circumstances—the best thing to do. And after I’d got home to what is called civilization I often wished I were back in Hidden Bay again. I wasn’t fooling you those days, Johnny. I meant it. Only— only—”
“Tell that to the marines,” Johnny snorted. “You blew in smiling. You went away smiling. You came back smiling— after six years. Why, you didn’t even know me for a month. Your friend Saunders, who seems to be a pretty thoroughgoing blackguard, came there to get you. He wasn’t long turning up when you came on this cruise.
“No, the more I think of you, old girl, the less I think of you. I don’t believe you care a whoop about anything or anybody except what you happen to want your own sweet self. And half the time I don’t think you quite know what you want—unless it’s just an easy life and a variety of men breaking their necks to be nice to you.”
“You certainly don’t do that little thing,” she drawled.
“I did once,” Johnny said grimly. “And looking back, I can see where I must have furnished you with a good deal of amusement. But never again.”
“ ‘Methinks thou dost protest too much,’ ” she said quietly—-and Johnny flushed.
“You’re really sore at me, Johnny,” she continued, “because during that summer you cooked up a very pretty little romance of which you made me the foundation. Those air castles were your own building.
“Think back, Johnny. You’re really just as self-centered a person as you accuse me of being. You’re very tenacious of an idea, of a feeling, whether it’s right or wrong. It didn’t seem to occur to you then, and it doesn’t now, that a woman might like a man quite a lot and still have something to do, some object inlife besides being somebody’s darling. Ah, John, did it ever strike you that I might have dropped out so completely, not because I didn’t care a whoop, but because I cared maybe too much—and had even then enough worldly experience to make me realize that a pair of headstrong kids like us could as easily go on the rocks as weather the storms of matrimony?
“You weren’t a man, then, Johnny; you were just a shy, handsome, romantic boy who had never been out of the woods—• figuratively speaking. I had chucked quite a few illusions even then. But I’m not quite what you think I am—or what you say you think I am. I can’t help it if men find me attractive. That’s no crime, is it? I don’t quite know why. All I know is that they do get fussed up over me without any effort on my part. You shouldn’t blame me for that. What is there about me that makes men like me?”
“You fool ’em,” Johnny said slowly. He was smarting a little under the implication of her words. “You say things with your eyes that you don’t mean. You kid ’em along and stall ’em off until they don’t know whether they’re going or coming.”
“In other words I’m just plain vamp. Oh, Johnny, Johnny!” she remonstrated demurely. “No, there’s more to me than that,” she went on, after a little pause. “And I have a better opinion of you than you have of me.
“I don’t think you’d ever cheat. I think you’d be loyal to the bitter end of anything. You wouldn’t betray a confidence, nor take an advantage that would put the other fellow in a hole—not if you knew it.”
“Thanks,” Johnny returned laconically.
“I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to forget it after I’ve told you,” she went on quite casually. “I’m not such an irresponsible as I appear. As a matter of fact, Captain Johnny, I’m a United States secret-service agent. I had been for two years before I came to Hidden Bay that time. Otherwise I shouldn’t be here now—I don’t think. I don’t know, though; I might. But that is why I am so deeply concerned at present.”
Johnny stared at her in open amazement.
“Don’t-you believe me?” she asked sharply.
“I’ve thought a lot of hard things about you one time and another,” he answered Blowly. “But I never thought of you as a deliberate liar. I’d take your word for practically anything, Jess.’’
“Then you can see why I want to be in on this thing, actively, not just passively,” she continued. “I have no authority in Canada, yet these are American crooks. They have committed a downright crime in Canadian waters, under Canadian law. I have an idea that their real operations will come within the scope of the United States revenue or immigration laws, and I don’t want them to have a loophole either side of the line.
“When we get to Alert Bay I can get busy as well as you. I can set a lot of United States border machinery in motion. We might get back your ship and put a full stop to their game—whatever it is— in very short order. I want to be in on this: I must be. I’m on a vacation, but in the service that doesn’t count. We don’t work by the clock.
“I told you I didn’t like crooks. I’ve seen too much of their handiwork. Even if I didn’t have that feeling, I draw a pretty good salary for seeing that crooks don’t put over any little profitable deals at the expense of the United States treasury. If I had no personal interest in this bunch, it’s still my job to find out if they’re trying to put anything over on Uncle Sam. You see why I want to be in on this hunt?”
Johnny nodded. That did give her participation a different air.
The fishing boat gave a sudden heavylurch. She had cleared the bay and a long point that jutted northward, a point that deflected the tide and lifted rips that could not be avoided. She tossed and tumbled for a minute or two, until she cleared this troubled area. Then the helmsman began to swing ship, picking a smooth space to make his turn. She poised broadside on the top of a great swell, slid at an angle down the green incline into a hollow. When she rose again she was facing east, headed for Goletas Channel, beyond which protected waterways wound east by south to the Gulf of Georgia.
“Did this man mind taking us to Alert Bay?” Jessie asked.
“No. He doesn’t care where he goes so long as he gets paid for it.”
“I suppose not,” Jess commented. Then, with a friendly smile at Johnny, standing over her, his feet spread apart, swaying a little to the roll of the small vessel, she said:
“Let’s quit being sentimental and snarling at each other and get down to practical matters. If you’ll light a fire in that galley stove I’ll cook breakfast.”
BREAKFAST was cooked and eaten under slight difficulty as to equilibrium. Things wouldn’t stay still. There was very little wind but a mighty heave to the sea from the push given by the westerly of the day before. And when in due course the gray fish boat drew up to Goletas Channel she spent a wild twenty minutes crossing Nawhitti Bar. The tide ebbed strongly out of Goletas. It met those incoming ocean swells and made them rear and break in white-topped pyramids.
“This fellow’s game, I’ll say that for him,” Johnny observed when three successive seas sent barrels of the Pacific sweeping across the midship hatches and drove them into the after cabin behind closed doors to keep from being drenched if not actually washed overboard. Once in a smooth spot the fisherman grinned reassuringly at them through his little window.
“Is it really dangerous?” Jess asked. “Any bad tide rip is more or less dangerous for small vessels,” Johnny answered. “This packet is a good sea boat or he wouldn’t have tackled Nawhitti Bar when it’s like this. She'll go through, only it’s going to be darned uncomfortable.” Those tide-troubled waters were soon behind. Once over the bar the narrow length of Goletas opened like a placid river. The fish boat logged off her seven knots hour after hour, finally clearing the island group that formed Goletas Channel. The inner end of Queen Charlotte gave her a gentle, sleep-inducing roll from a quartering sea and a day breeze that helped her speed half a knot. And late in the afternoon she nosed in beside the wharf at Alert Bay.
“Will you want to use this packet of mine any more?” the fisherman inquired when his lines were made fast to the dock cleats.
“I think maybe we will,” Johnny said. “You stick around for a while, anyway. I’ll know before night.”
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“All right,” the man agreed. He cast an eye over his boat and strolled away toward a building labeled “General Store.”
“What is going to be your first move, Johnny?” the girl asked.
“Get hold of Harper,” Johnny replied. “Then get busy on the wire.”
“You know, it strikes me that we stand a better chance if a general alarm is not sounded too soon,” Jess said thoughtfully. “We can only guess what they are up to, and one guess is as good as another. It isn’t whisky running, because these elaborate plans they’ve made wouldn’t be necessary. The whisky-running crowd has a very simple and direct method of handling their contraband from Canada to thé coast States.
“But whatever their game is, I am pretty sure it consists of getting something into the United States by sea. That’s why they stole the West by North. Using Hidden Bay as a point of departure somewhere on Puget Sound seems the logical destination. Now I can fix it so that every port in the Puget Sound district will be watched for them. If we ran straight to Hidden Bay with two or three men we might bump right into them. If they’re making trips from there to Puget Sound we could nab them on their first trip back—for whatever they come back for—and it seems reasonable that they wouldn’t take the trouble to buy that place of yours if they didn’t intend to use it for some little time.
“Now a general order to the provincial police, a report to your owner of what happened, means a leak, publicity. The papers will get hold of it and spread-eagle it as a sensation. Once they knew the trail was hot they’d scuttle the yacht and vanish. We’ve got to get them while they think they’re safe. With you on Sentinel Island, your crew marooned on End of Land, and me supposed to be drifting around the north end of Vancouver Island, they’re going to feel reasonably safe for at least a few days. No one would dream that anything was wrong aboard the West by North even if she cruised boldly down the coast in broad daylight— not as matters stand. You talk that aspect of it over carefully with your constable.”
Johnny reflected on this. He didn’t relish reporting the facts to his owner. He wasn’t at fault. A yacht captain doesn’t reckon on piracy as a thing he must guard against on the Pacific coast. Nevertheless, the prospect of finding the West by North and retaking her, even if he had to fight for her, appealed to Johnny far more than sending out distress signals and waiting for the law to recover his ship.
He had Gentry’s pistol in his pocket. He would take a chance with Dewey Saunders’ crowd anywhere, any time, wherever he found them in possession of his ship. That was how he felt. So that Jessie’s suggestion found favor.
“I’ll talk it over with Harper if he’s here, anyway,” said he. “And I’m going to find out, if possible, about this Albacore.”
“All right, let’s go ashore. I want to get a wire to Seattle,” Jess replied. “I do think that we ought to get to Hidden Bay as soon as we can. One or two constables would be plenty. More would be apt to ball things up.
“They’re either there—or will come back there—or they’ve stowed some sort of plunder there and gone to sea. And I’m sure their game, whatever it is, is coastwise and not offshore. My goodness!” she ended ruefully, “I wish I had some clothes. And a bath. This is running light and roughing it with a vengeance, isn’t it, Johnny?”
BY SIX o’clock that evening Jessie, Johnny Akhorn, and Constable Harper of the provincial police sat in consultation on the dock edge. They had before them sundry telegrams. One from Vancouver, a reply to the constable’s inquiry, was illuminating as far as it went. It read:
Steamer Albacore clearing quarantine William Head. Cargo rice. Manifest and clearance proper order. Yacht West by North reported making night run Euclataws southbound, date uncertain but within two days. What’s up? Wire full particulars.
“That’s the assistant inspector,” Harper grinned. “He’s a live wire. Smells something. Anyway, there’s track of your yacht. She’ll be headed where you thought, eh? What did you get, miss?” Johnny had nothing because he had seen no reason to duplicate Harrier's inquiry—and did not propose to inform his yacht owned of the difficulty he was in until he got a little more light—or possession of his ship. But Jess had a long wire.
“It’s in code,” she said, “and merely states that a sharp lookout will be kept for any of the men, ashore or afloat. They would rather like to catch them in the act of entering the United States with any sort of contraband. They state that the West by North will be returned to Canadian owners without any red tape even if apprehended in American waters.”
“We must get on to Hidden Bay,” Johnny decided. “How about it, Harper? Can you act with us?”
Harper was a man hunter, both by inclination and training. He liked the game; had been successful at it. He was a terror to thieving beach combers along the coast. No criminal had ever evaded Harper except by leaving the country. When he went after a man—or men—he meant business. He was tireless, crafty, courageous. His eyes sparkled now. This was something big.
“It’s out of my district, but that’s a mere detail,” said he. “The original offense was committed off Cape Scott. Well, you come along to the J. P. and swear to a complaint against these birds, specifying the offense. Then we’ll get under way.
“Keep this fisherman on. I know him. He’s useful. I’ll swear him in. I have my own launch and engineer, who is also a constable. We run all night, see, and pick up another constable at Van Anda, and make Hidden Bay some time tomorrow. That makes five of us. We’re enough to take ’em, wherever we find ’em, even if they put up a fight.”
“We’re plenty — if they’re there,” Johnny agreed.
“How about you, miss?” Harper turned to Jess. “This is a man’s job. Maybe you’d better leave it to us.”
“I’m accustomed to men’s jobs,” Jessie replied coolly. “I might be useful—in a pinch.”
“Let’s go then,” Johnny urged. “Right-o,” said Harper. “Come on with me and get out that complaint.” From the quarters of the local justice of the peace Johnny returned to the fish boat. He had arranged for a mail boat serving Goletas Channel to run out to End of Land and take off his three men. He had written them instructions to proceed to Paden River—and keep their mouths shut until they heard from him.
His fisherman was organized to go anywhere, any time. Harper was taking fuel oil aboard a lean, lead-colored government cruiser, flying the blue ensign astern. They were practically ready to go. And Johnny found Jess sitting in the low after cabin pondering over her telegrams.
“I didn’t tell you quite all of it,” she said. “My wire to them told something they were very anxious to know. It seems that the Federal authorities were already quite keen to get hold of McNaughton and Dewey. They are suspected of having stolen that schooner out of San Pedro harbor after she’d been taken into custody by a United States marshal over a month before she turned up in the north. She’d be«, n libeled for some reason, and Dewey couldn’t raise bonded security.
“Of course they did steal her from the marshal. She was Dew’ey's old yacht, the Lilac Time, instead of Boom’s property, as they told me. I thought she looked too familiar. I remember her as a black-hulled topmast schooner. Evidently they needed her and stole her, changed her rig a 1 îtle, her name to the Fafnir, of Newport R I., painted her white and sailed her jp hi re. So the United States has a prior claim, an extraditable claim, against tne whole bunch, if they should escape us or the British Columbia police.”
“They’re certainly a grand bunch of pirates,” Johnny grunted. “Here’s hoping they’re in Hidden Bay when we get there.”
“If they aren’t, they will be,” Jess said hopefully. “There’ll be a clue there— something they’ll come back for. I have that feeling. And I believe in hunches, Johnny, whether you do or not. I’ve seen them work out for me too often.”
To be Concluded