BY ONE of the common yet quite unpredictable occurrences that upset the plans of mice and men, at three bells of a hazy mid-Pacific afternoon the command of the S. S. Cynthia,
4,000 tons B. R., devolved upon the lean, capable shoulders of First Officer Douglas MacVey. Eighteen days out of Shanghai, the little freighter was homeward bound for the port of Vancouver, when her skipper, Captain Paulus P. Volgard, expired with great suddenness upon the well-scoured planking of his own bridge-deck—a circumstance brought about through his having indulged too freely in a soggy, dufflike pudding.
MacVey, who had heard the captain panting as he dragged his corpulent bulk up the narrow stairway, turned in time to see his superior pitch forward heavily beside the binnacle, and for a moment he stood stupefied, staring in amazement at the prostrate figure that a moment before had represented the highest authority aboard the Cynthia.
Then he dropped to his knees beside the motionless form.
“Losh presairve us!” gasped MacVey, trying unsuccessfully to revive the immoderate Captain Paulus. "Quartermaster!” he raised his voice in a tone of crisp command. “Pass the word for Mr. Carrigan.”
“Aye, sir.” The quartermaster seemed unmoved, possibly even pleased at the prospect of a change in command aboard the ship. Which spoke well for the character of First Officer Douglas MacVey and not very well for that of the late Captain Voigard.
“Faith, his desserts have brought him his deserts,” said Mr. Carrigan, impiously when he arrived on the bridge in breathless haste. "The ould swine!” Carrigan, the second officer, was a young, brightfaced man with carroty red hair and blue eyes. His eyes were more vivid than MacVey’s, whose sandy hair and solemnly Gaelic countenance betrayed a deal of canniness.
“That comes ill from ye, Mister Carrigan,” said Captain MacVey. “Ye should have more reverence for the unfortunate—”
“Ye’ve never stood watch under him, sir,” said Carrigan. “I would sooner have had a pig in me parlor than him, small as it is—”
“Now, mister”—MacVey fastened a cold eye on his red-headed associate—“stow it.”
“Right, sir,” Carrigan repressed himself. '“But I hope ye get the ship.”
MacVey, too, hoped he would get the ship, though he forebore to mention the fact. There was a slender, sweet-lipped girl in a cottage in North Vancouver who would be Mrs. MacVey now but for the not quite satisfactory salary the Line paid to first officers on its smaller ships. But a captain’s pay— now that' was another matter!
If I can bring her in w’ell and no trouble,” thought MacVey to himself, “maybe they’ll gie me a chance at her—e’en though auld Henderson does run to years for his commanders.”
I he Honorable Joseph Henderson did not ordinarily give command of his freighters to any man under the age of forty. And that would be a long wait for MacVey.
HTHE NIGHT following the death of Captain V olgard, when MacVey was in his little whitepanelled cabin preparing to snatch some sleep, there came a knock on the door.
Douglas had laid aside his uniform coat and was in his shirt sleeves, the sinewv bulk of his muscles showing very clear through the loose-fitting, much-laundered
“Come in,” he called, and then stopped, a furrow appearing across the freckled forehead.
The door opened in answer to his call, and there stood the big figure of Mr. Larry Condon, the Cynthia’s solitary passenger.
Douglas did not like Condon; had not liked him from the moment he came aboard at Shanghai, where the Cynthia had touched after leaving Hong Kong. Possibly it had been the impedimenta which had preceded Mr. I-arry Condon, and which had made some little additional trouble for Douglas, that had prejudiced him. For in the haste and tumult of loading in the superheated port, Douglas had been forced to cease his duties and attend to the careful stowage of a number of ten-gallon tin containers, each closed with a screw cap, in light wooden frames, stencilled in black with the legend: “Handle with careInflammable.” In addition, there w-ere the letters “Sample No. 1” and soon in numerical designation throughout the entire shipment of containers. Condon had remarked casually that these tins contained samples of gasoline of superior high test, from various oilfields in Asia, that were being taken back to North America for atmospheric trials.
Which seemed reasonable enough. But it was extraordinary that the containers were stowed not in the holds, but carefully racked in the spare passenger cabin next the one Condon himself was to occupy. Furthermore, they were treated as personal baggage not manifested in the cargo papers. But Volgard had issued the orders regarding them, and MacVey had carried out instructions unquestioningly.
Condon himself had not been prepossessing. A tall man with a hooked nose and inscrutable eyes, he claimed to be a technical expert in the employ of various oil interests. He had a bluff bearing, and if permitted would slap a person on the back. His voice was hoarse, and he prefaced his casual remarks with the exclamation “Lord love you, lad,” which Douglas MacVey found annoying. Condon had brought his own liquor aboard for the voyage, and was free with it at mess and between times—w'hich had been a matter of satisfaction to Captain Paulus P. Volgard, with whom he had seemed on familiar terms.
“Good evenin’, Mr. Condon.” There was a query in MacVey’s voice.
“Captain MacVey, my congratulations,” Condon smiled. “I trust your command will be a permanent one—sorry as I am to have it come about this way.” Though MacVey had not invited him in, he came anyway and dropped into a chair. He proffered a cigarette.
“No, thanks,” MacVey refused.
“Oh, come along now, captain." Larry Condon was insistent. “I know you don’t care for the drink or I’d have brought a bottle with me. But a cigarette now—”
“Verra well, since you insist.” Douglas took one, and Condon lit it.
"Nice quarters you have, skipper,” said Condon, glancing around the little room. “I suppose you’ll be moving to Volgard’s quarters in a day or so.”
“No,” said Douglas shortly. “I’m leavin’ everything as
Condon let his eyes rove to the photograph on the wall.
"She’s pretty; a real sweet girl. Your wife?”
“I’m not married," Douglas answered shortly.
“But you’d like to be, eh?” Condon looked at him shrewdly.
"I havena the money,” said Douglas.
Condon nodded, then his quick eyes took in the cabinet at the foot of the bed, which was lined with tier after tier of little green tin canisters.
"What's all that?” he asked.
"T\OUGLAS MACVEY weakened palpably. A warmth C' came into his tone.
“Yon is ma invention,” he said briskly. “MacVey’s Marvellous Mothmort. Could ye use any of it? Tis a’ wonderful preparation. Keeps woollens, blankets, clothes, furs—everything in the household safe from the ravages of man’s most hated enemy, the depredatin' moth. A dollar a pound, guaranteed.”
“\\ hat’s it made of?” Condon seemed interested.
“That’s my secret,” said Douglas cannily.
“Tell you what, skipper,” Condon grinned. “I haven’t any use for it, but I’ll buy a pound if you'll tell me how you make it. Sounds interesting.”
Douglas debated with himself for a moment.
“Verra well,” he said finally. “Here’s your can.” He pocketed the dollar Condon gave. “It’s moth balls.”
“Moth balls?” Condon shook the cannister. “Sounds like a powder to me?”
“Aye, ’tis a powder.” said Douglas. “Naebody would pay a dollar for a pound of moth balls. So I pound ’em up and run cm through a coffee mill. The result is an aromatic powder, easy to carry, easy to use, an’ a godsend to housewives in our out-o’-the-way ports o’ call. Unfortunately, this trip we didna touch onywhere the womenfolk could not buy moth balls, so my business didna prosj>er as usual. The other ships I’ve been on put in at more likely places.”
“That’s a shame,” said Condon, shaking his head. “Just the same it’s a smart idea. Who thought it up, did you?”
Douglas shook his head.
"My girl, Sadie, did. Her brother, who is a mechanic for automobiles, got me the cans from a friend verra cheap, and I sell the product at a profit. Seventy cents out o’ each sale is profit.” "And you are savin’ the money to get married, I’ll bet.”
“Yes,” said Douglas MacVey.
"Your girl is a smart one,” said Condon approvingly. “You oughtn’t keep her waiting too long. Probably there are other fellows that would appreciate her as much as you.” Douglas MacVey’s face darkened, one of the good old-fashioned black Scots rages.
"On y man wha does —his blud’s on his own head,” he said thickly.
“Of course.” Condon spoke hastily. “I was just thinking that it would be nice if I could put you in the way of making a good sized piece of change.
That ¿vould be a help,
“How?” Douglas was interested, but his canniness prevented his eagerness from showing.
"No trouble at all,” said Condon easily.
“As a matter of fact, I had arranged with Captain Volgard to do me a little favor—lay the ship to while I meet some friends of mine at a certain place off the coast of Vancouver. Simple thing—you could do it for me just as well. All you have to do is to run off your course for a bit, and lay to until I hear from them. Then you can forget about it. The crew needn t know but what you’re acting under owner’s orders, and you will have exactly”—Condon named a sum that made Douglas open his grey eyes a trifle wider —“to put in your pocket, and the Line need know nothing about it.”
“But I couldna do that,” said Douglas. “ Twould bum a deal of company oil, ’twould delay us at least a day, and ony way it would show in the log. I would lose my position.” Not at all,” argued Condon. “What do you care about company oil? Any man that sells moth balls to missionaries, or whatever they are, for a dollar a pound shouldn’t be bothered about that. And you can fake the log so it will look like you didn't go off your course. Put down that you ran into heavy weather or some such thing.”
Na; much as I like the money,” said Douglas, “I’ll have none of it; none of it at all. Ma mothballs are a commaircial venture. To deflect my ship for pairsonal profit at others’ expense would be dishonesty.”
Condon extinguished his cigarette butt in the ashtrav and stared unconcernedly at Captain MacVey.
“Suit yourself,” he said. “It’s your own funeral, not
mine. But I’ll tell you now you’ve turned down the easiest piece of money you’ll ever make.”
“Ma ain funeral.” Douglas rose to his feet and faced Condon. “And is that to be a threat against my life, mister,” he demanded coldly.
“Oh, Lord love you, lad”—Condon laughed heavily— “certainly not. It’s just an expression they have in the States. I didn’t mean anything like that.”
“I’m glad sic’ is the case,” said Douglas gravely. “ ’Tis a serious maritime offense to threaten the life of the master of a ship upon the high seas.”
“Good night,” said Condon amiably, closing the door behind him.
"Phew,” grunted Douglas, opening the porthole, “yon man stinks—but I dinna ken why.”
"VV/HEN the Cynthia was five days run off Vancouver, vv the wireless operator trotted up to the bridge one morning and handed MacVey a sheet of weather reports he had picked up, a communication from the Line as to dockage, and a sheet on which a meaningless jumble of words was written.
That s a marconi Mr. Condon sent this morning,” said the operator. “It’s in English but it doesn’t mean anything.” Captain MacVey stared at the thing. “Yon’s code of course,” he said. “Hereafter I want you to show’ me, Mister
Sparks, ony message he sends before ’tissent. Understand?” n y*-» Sparks nodded and went below.
But MacVey’s caution seemed needless, for Condon sent no more messsages, and by the third day following, MacVey had completely forgotten about the matter. At noon he was on the bridge taking his sights, with Carrigan beside lp?’ . .^as a bright, clear day, with the sea a smooth blue and visibility unusually good. In forty-eight hours, he hoped, they would be entering Juan de Fuca.
ere was no other ship near him. In the morning a big Japanese lmer had sped past, heading for the cold waters through which she curved her circuit across the top of the u but since then no other ship had een sig ed. Even the wireless had not picked up any nearby whisper of companion keels on the silent waters.
, /eZ had getting his shot of the sun and had
the when he became aware of something until t jstant horizon. A speck that grew rapidly larger
alnnl th!,form of 3 large planelt came booming
NNTIFVK C distant drone. of its motors increasing in volume ey seemed to vibrate through the entire heavens.
The sun gleamed brightly on its silver wings, and the whole hull gradually took shape. It was a big flying boat, with twin motors above and on either side of the hull which served as the pontoon.
Carrigan and MacVey stared at the thing as it drew' overhead.
Faith, an it must be someone flying the Pacific westward,” said Carrigan, pushing his uniform cap back on his forehead and staring upward.
Aye,” said MacVey. “Like as not ’tis some round-theworld flight. ’Tis odd we were not wirelessed to be on the lookout.”
1 he plane passed high overhead, then suddenly turned and swooped down, as though to enable someone w'ith glasses to read the name Cynthia on their bows. Then the plane stood away with a great buzzing, and after a few moments turned in the air and flew back toward the ship, coming very low and square abeam. Something was dangling from the bottom of the craft like a thin, gleaming wire with an object at the lower end of it.
"Losh,” said MacVey suddenly. “They’ll be too low, the fuies. Port your helm. Smartly now, quartermaster. Hard a-port !”
“Hard a-port she is, sir,” sang out the quartermaster, craning his neck to see what he could of the plane out of the wheelhouse window.
Carrigan waved his hands frantically at the approaching plane, which was very low; perhaps a hundred feet up off the water.
The thunder of the big motors was deafening, and MacVey felt suddenly very naked and unprotected up there on the bridge. The next moment the big plane had roared almost over their heads and there was a smashing, twanging sound as the object at the end of the wire swept between the Cynthia’s stubby masts at a velocity of over a hundred miles an hour.
The plane hardly bounced at all in the air from the impact, and swept in a wide, graceful circle, to head back toward them.
“The pirates!” said MacVey, raging. “Don’t they know they’ve tom out our wireless?” The ends of the wireless antenna, broken and useless, trailed from the masts, wholly disconnected.
Again the plane came droning down upon the little
Cynthia like a vast hornet preparing to bedevil some stodgy old housewife on her way to market. And this time the hornet showed its sting—or one of them.
■pOR AS the big wings slid down until their shadow on the blue water seemed leaping shark-like at the Cynthia’s bow', there came a flicker from the forward cabin ports and something like the beat of hailstones drummed ominously across the fo’cs’le, making little splinters dance from the white decks, and paint fleck away from the iron sheers.
MacVey stared unbelievingly. He was aware that the look-out in the bows had turned and w'as regarding him with an aggrieved expression on his stolid face, as though he held the captain personally responsible for the disturbance which had come so close to him.
"Yon divils were after turnin’ a machine gun on us!” Carrigan gasped, his jaw sagging.
his jaw sagging.
“Mister Carrigan”—Douglas MacVey’s eyes were very cold—"get up some rifles to the wheelhouse wi’ ammunition. Everyone else below decks. ’Tis piracy they contemplate.”
“Oh, nothing as bad as that, skipper.”
Condon’s voice, very hoarse and businesslike, rang in MacVey’s ears. Douglas MacVey found himself staring into the black muzzle of a long-snouted forty-five calibre automatic, while its mate, in Condon’s right hand, covered Carrigan.
Condon had come up on the bridge uninvited, and his weapons completely dominated the situation.
“And what’s the meanin’ of this, sir?” MacVey asked sharply. “Get below' wfi’ ye; this is no time for foolishness.”
“You’re right,” said Condon. “So put your hands up.”
There was a menacing look in his eyes, and slowly MacVey obeyed.
“Ye’ll hang for this, Condon,” he said softly. “Piracy is na sae good these days.”
“Lay the ship to, Carrigan,” said Condon gruffly, gesturing to the controls with the pistol in his right hand.
Carrigan hesitated, and cast a questioning glance at MacVey.
“I’m commanding here,” said Condon. “Do as I tell you. Lord love you, lad, do you want a slug in your belly?” Carrigan pulled the handle across the quadrant and the Cynthia began to lose headway.
Now look you, MacVey,” said Condon, harshly and unpleasantly, “that plane has a bomb rack on her. If there’s any monkey business, this ship will be badly damaged. ^ ou may or may not bring her into port. Understand? If I have to, I’ll go overside and be picked up.” Douglas noticed for the first time that Condon was wearing a life belt. “All we want is to tranship those tins of gasoline that came aboard with me and some of my personal baggage and myself. Do that, and you can go on your way. I don t care. Make trouble, and you and all your crew will be in for plenty of grief. Now, what are you going to do?” "It seems I have nae choice,” said MacVey. “This is a peacefu mairchant ship; we arena’ fitted to cope wi’ ye and yer bloody pirates. But I warn ye once I get to shore, the Government shall hear of this.”
I m not worryin’,” said Condon. “Now this is what you’re to do. Carrigan stays here, and at the first sign of trouble I’m going to plug him, understand? I want you, MacVey, to put one boat overside, with every tin of that gas in her and two sailors to row her. When she is ready to cast off, let me know.”
MacVey, an angry flush on his face, went below'. On his way it occurred to him that the gasoline was an essential part of these pirates’ plans. Without it, probably they could not get back home or wherever they were going, as they had undoubtedly used almost all their fuel on the wTay out. Those big flying boats sopped it up. And evidently these people came from a distance. A wild idea of smashing the tins occurred to him, but he rejected the thought almost at once. He was responsible for the lives of his crew. If that ship out there on the w'aters had a machine gun, it w’as quite possible they also had bombs. And it was important that he bring the little Cynthia home undamaged, if he hoped to keep his job. On the other hand, if he could catch these pirates red-handed there would be a reward; maybe he and Sadie could get married. Inwardly he groaned -and racked his brains.
* I 'AKING two men, he hastened to the cabins, and -*• presently the tins of gasoline began to move out through the saloon doorways toward the boat already swinging from the davits.
But they moved slowly,and after a quarter of an hour had elapsed Douglas MacVey could hear Condon’s loud voice shouting from the bridge for him to step lively. With his jaw set he worked even faster, and presently he saw the last tin go out to the boat in the hands of the men.
“I reckon he brought the petrol in yon small tins so they could refuel easier at sea,” he muttered to himself as he went back to the bridge.
Condon stood there, the automatics held carelessly in his hands but his eyes watchful. For three quarters of an hour he stood completely master of the Cynthia, while the sailors pulled the small boat over the lazy swells, and from the bridge Captain MacVey watched his own men help to refuel the big flying boat. As the afternoon wore on, hazy murk began to rim the ocean and the glass was dropping.
“I hope ye have some nasty flying weather before ye reach the shore,” he said cordially to Condon.
The big man only grinned.
“We’ll be all right,” he said. “We’ve planned this too carefully to go wrong. If old Volgard hadn’t kicked off we wouldn’t have had to reckon wúth your pigheadedness. You are a fool, MacVey. If you had seen things the right way we might have worked this several trips until people got wise to it. By that time you’d have been rich.” MacVey grunted and turned his back on the big man. Condon merely smiled and twiddled the automatics. Finally the boat came back, and Condon seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. “Now, skipper,” he said, “I’m going to leave you, and I’m not greatly distressed over it. There is some baggage down in my cabin that if I had to ride into Vancouver with would be a bit nasty for me. You will come down and help me overside with it—and remember that if you try any tricks with this little tub of yours, that water-hen out there will lay an egg on you that you'll remember a long time. So be sensible.”
Under his direction, MacVey carried two heavy suitcases the size of small trunks to the Jacob’s ladder and lowered them by lines down to the boat. Condon followed, and they shoved off.
The boat ferried him to the big plane, and MacVey, going back to the bridge, watched with a thoughtful expression around his grey eyes.
“Mister Carrigan, tell our engine room that I would consider it a pairsonal favor if they would give me a verra
fu’ head o’ steam.”
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“Sure; ye’re goin’ to run ’em down!” There was a glint in Carrigan’s blue eye. “We’ll squish th’ thing under in no time—” “No.” MacVey shook his head. “We couldna get up headway wi’ the auld tub. They would like as not mangle us wi’ a bomb forbye we tried it.”
Carrigan looked at Douglas MacVey with something approaching contempt in his eyes. For a skipper to be pirated and give up without at least an effort at retaliation was something unbelievable, in his opinion.
Presently the passenger was transhipped, and the little boat turned back toward the Cynthia. She was hardly clear of the plane when the big motors began to thunder and the plane gained headway across the long swells. .Her underbody cut the greying sea in a smother of foam, she began to batter in great swishing plunges as the motors
strove to free her from the grip of the waters, and presently after a long run she pulled clear and rose gracefully into the freshening air.
A few minutes later the Cynthia’s boat was fast and the winch was hauling her up. Hardly was she clear of the water when MacVey stepjxd to the bridge control and pulled the quadrant handle to full speed ahead.
“We will pick up the course of yon boatplane,” he said, “and follow her for the time.”
“Mayhap ’twill be construed as an act of aggression,” remarked Carrigan, a faintly scornful light in his eye. “An’ they will come back with their machine gun to shoot us.”
“But for me ye’d ha’ been a dead Irishman the noo,” said MacVey placidly. “Roust out your watch, mister, tae stand
by wi’ rifles.” He picked up tl e glasses and scrutinized the plane that was by now a dot on the horizon to the northeast. "Wait a moment, mister—before ye gang down, what do ye see?”
Carrigan took the binoculars.
"Faith, she’s cornin’ down on the water.” There was puzzlement in his voice. "Why are they doin’ that?”
"My guess would be because they canna help themselves,” said MacVey, a dour smile on his face. “Be after the rifles, mister.”
IT WAS two hours later, with the wind freshening from the north to kick up a nasty sea, that the lumbering little Cynthia finally drew abreast of the white-winged plane that was laboring like some great wounded bird in the trough of the seas.
Her motors were drumming powerfully, and the plane was laced with spray and flying spume as she baffled and jxtunded her way into the seas. As she gathered speed, MacVey saw that the battering of the waves increased, so that finally a huge comber swept over her. She did not seem to have the requisite force in her propellers to heave her clear of the punishing billows.
MacVey brought the strong bows of the little Cynthia up to windward of the downed plane, and scrutinized it through the binoculars. I le could not see much of the interior but there seemed to be confusion aboard, for heads were visible passing and repassing the small ports.
The plane’s occupants seemed to fear that it w as MacVey’s intention to ram them with the heavy cutwater of the Cynthia, for the pilot tried to manoeuvre it so that its position would be maintained under the lee but astern.
“We winna frighten the puir people,” said MacVey winking at Carrigan. “Let them flounder in peace.”
"With the seas kickin’ up, they’ll be after getting seasick," prognosticated Carrigan, a broad grin on his face. "What brought them down, I wonder?”
"I wonder,” said MacVey.
As they were talking, a trap door in the body of the plane was flung open and Condon, the Cynthia's renegade passenger, appeared on top of the wave-washed hull.
"Ahoy, Captain MacVey.”
"Ahoy, Mister Condon," shouted MacVey, winking at Carrigan.
"We’d like to come aboard and talk to you. We have a proposition to make—” "Ye’ll not set foot on my decks, Condon,” yelled MacVey through the megaphone. “You nor ony one o’ yer pirates. If you want a tow, I’ll pass ye a line and haul ye to Vancouver dockside."
"But we want to come aboard.” Condon’s voice was not assured as it had been formerly. "You don’t understand. We are ready to pay you well. We don’t want to go to Vancouver. Set us ashore inside Cape Flattery, and you can have anything you want. Anything. We’ve got a way to pay you."
"I’m sorry.” MacVey was adamant. “A tow to Vancouver I could gie ye, nothing else.”
“Listen, captain”—there was a note of desperation in Condon’s voice—“you can’t tow us to Vancouver or anywhere. This thing is sinking. It’s sprung a leak. We couldn’t get off the water, and in trying to run with it to rise we pounded it too hard. You can’t leave us here. We can make you a good proposition.”
“Think he’s foolin’?” Carrigan was suspicious.
“What sort of proposition?” MacVey asked. "Yon pin money ye talked of before will no interest me.”
"Who said anything about pin money?” Condon's tone gained a little assurance. After all, perhaps this man MacVey had his price like all others. “We’re ready to talk turkey with you. We’ll take care of your crew, too. You can all make a bit of change.” He added this in a loud voice, for the crew along the rail were evincing marked attention to his words.
“Be after stoppin’ his gab, sir,” Carrigan glanced uncertainly at MacVey. "You’ll
have no truck with him surely, after what
But MacVey seemed debating as to the possibilities; weighing potential risk to himself against the advantages of a cash return.
“How much cash have ye?” he bawled finally.
Condon hesitated for a moment.
“We haven’t much more cash than I spoke of before.” he said finally. “But we have something that’s as good. You take us aboard, set us ashore where we want to go, and you won’t have to stand watch for a long time unless you want to.”
“I’ll have to see the security,” said MacVey cautiously.
"Have we your word that if it’s as good as we say it is, you’ll keep your part of the bargain?”
“I wouldn’t say that. ’Tis not me makin’ the proposition, ’tis you. I’ll take it or leave it, as I see fit.”
ENSUED considerable argument on the plane, which was sinking noticeably lower in the waters. Two other men came up on the hull, and a fourth passed up the big suitcases from below. One man, small in stature and of swarthy complexion, after gesticulating violently, tried to pick up one of the heavy bags and hurl it into the waters that seethed about the plane.
MacVey held his breath, but the man was seized by Condon and prevented from carrying out his intention.
Their voices were raised in argument and MacVey could catch their w'ords.
“You’ll have us all in jail with that evidence,” snarled the small, dark man.
“Don’t be a fool,” snapped Condon hoarsely. ‘‘They’ve got enough on us now to send us up. Do you think you’ve just been playing at piracy?” There was anger and contempt in his voice. "Our only chance is to buy them off with some of this-—” The rest of the sentence was blown away by a gust of wind, but finally Condon seemed to have his way.
“We’ll come and bring it with us, captain,” he called. The plane drifted nearer to the steel bulk of the Cynthia, and conversation was easy. “Will you put out a boat?”
“No tricks, mind you,” warned MacVey. “You come unarmed, with yon bags. Our rifles will be coverin’ ye.”
A short time later the four men, a mixture of surliness and sheepishness on their faces, came over the side under the watchful eyes of Mr. Carrigan’s armed squad.
‘Now we’ll have a look-see into yon handbags,” said MacVey. The three companions of Condon were locked in a cabin under guard, and MacVey and Carrigan went down to the skipper’s quarters, where the bags were opened. In them was a vast array of little tin canisters, sealed with solder. MacVey pried the top off one of them. Inside was a dark, sticky substance, of a treacly character, emitting a not unpleasant odor.
"Chandoo,” MacVey said. “I thought as much.” He dipped a finger into the stuff and felt the consistency, then touched it to his tongue. Most men in the China trade know the refined form of opium, as prepared for smoking among the Chinese. Again he nodded. “And a very good quality, too.” “You bet it’s good stuff,” said Condon. “Worth a lot of jack—once it’s in past the law. Good as gold dust. Well, skipper, what do you say? You help us and we help you. We would both be out of luck if you were silly enough to turn this over to the Government. Especially when we’ve got a set-up ashore that will turn it into cash.”
Douglas MacVey thought of the long years that lay ahead of him before his pay would be a marrying pay. And he thought of the light-haired, light-hearted girl in North Vancouver.
“Mayhap you’re right, Mister Condon,” he said slowly. “It might be a foolish thing to do. But how would ye go about gettin’ the stuff through, an’ what would my share be, think ye?”
"I knew you were a sensible man, MacVey,” said Condon. “Uord love you, lad, this will be a pile for you
At mess that night the four men from the plane sat at table with Captain MacVey.
But Carrigan’s eyes, when his superior relieved him on the bridge, were hard and contemptuous.
At the head of the stair he paused and faced MacVey.
“You can be after doin’ anything you want about this, sir,” he said coldly, “but I’m warnin’ you that once we make port the Line is going to hear from me. And there’s men in the crew will talk, too.” MacVey shook his head.
“Havena ye heard, Mister Carrigan, that a sailor will do anything for money? Lord love you, lad, you have a lot to learn. .
THREE DAYS later Douglas MacVey stood on the thick carpet before the huge redwood desk in Joseph Henderson’s own office. He was on the carpet—the carpet that many a sailor-man had stood on before him, for making and breaking.
Henderson, a lean, cadaverous old man, sat erect in the chair and fastened on Douglas MacVey the eyes that had downed many a recalcitrant captain in days gone by. This time the eyes were not in the breaking mood; they seemed to be studying MacVey, sizing him up.
“Young man!” Henderson scowled. “The authorities commend highly your work catching these people, and on wirelessing ahead the information you obtained from them. It enabled the police to round up the other members of the gang on shore. I understand that you and your crew will come in for a reward. The value of all that opium was startlingly large.”
“That’s verra good news, sir.” Douglas MacVey grinned.
“I’m thinking of giving you the ship,” Henderson scowled at him even more fiercely.
“I’ll do my best wi’ her, sir.” Douglas felt his throat getting dry with suspense.
“But what I want to know is what the devil this bill is that you’ve submitted to the company—so many pounds of MacVey’s Marvellous Mothmort at a dollar a pound.
I don’t understand it. You refused, I am informed, a large bribe from those criminals, yet here you indulge in what looks to me like petty graft.”
Old Henderson was death on petty graft. It was his pet aversion.
"Yes,” said Douglas MacVey in his clipped voice. “Yon was my own pairsonal stores I used to bring the pirates to book.
I should be reimbursed.”
“You mean you—used insect powder on pirates?” Old Henderson stared at him unbelievingly.
“ ’Tisna insect powder,” said Douglas with dignity. “ ’Tis moth exterminator.
I put it in yon tins of gasoline before sendin’ it on deck. It drew all the power frae the fuel, so they couldna hold up their load in the air nor get aff the water, when it started workin’ through their motors.”
Old Man Henderson began to laugh—a bumpy, shaking laughter that brought tears to his eyes.
"But—how did you know,” he gasped, “that it would do that?”
“ ’Tis simple,” said Captain Douglas MacVey. “My sweetheart’s brither was once a mechanic to racin’ automobiles. He has told me of a time someone put mothballs in gasoline tanks to make yon autos lose races. Tis a well-known thing,” said Douglas MacVey almost condescendingly.
“But this powder of yours—how did you know it would do the same thing?”
“Oh, yon powder was nothing but moth balls mashed wi’ a coffee grinder,” said Douglas MacVey, and then stopped in sudden embarrassment, realizing the possible unwisdom of the remark.
Old Man Henderson opened his mouth, as though he wanted to laugh but lacked the strength. Finally he shook his head.
“Captain,” he said weakly. “I like you. You should go a long way.”
Seizing a pencil, he wrote across the face of the neatly handwritten bill, “Approved, J. H.” He handed it to MacVey.
“I’m not quite sure—but I think—you are the only man who ever sold me, or any of my companies, moth balls at a dollar a pound. Captain, I congratulate you!”