Fog on Fundy
D. WILSON MACARTHUR
Skipper Dan discovers the uses of adversity
LITTLE Mr. Hollister said to his big skipper: “I guess that belt of yours could come in a bit more, eh, Blunt?”
Captain Dan Blunt—Handsome Dan—stood twisting his deep-sea cap between his large calloused hands, and smiled nervously.
Hollister’s narrowed eyes glinted with sardonic amusement.
“A couple more inches tighter anyway, skipper. At least, that’s what I reckon five dollars a week less would add up tp in grub.”
Dan tried to understand. Slow-tongued, slow-thinking, solid as a rock, indefatigable, infinitely reliable, and a born sailorthat was Dan Blunt. A man who could have rigged canvas on a mud scow and sailed her clean to the Grand Banks and brought her home loaded with cod. The kind of man who could leap to action in a split second in any crisis that confronted him while lie had a ship’s deck under his two feet but was brought up all standing when he set foot on shore.
He stared at his employer and tried to follow his drift. He had never liked Hollister, and the trade was tame. But ships were not easy to find these days, and even a 200-ton coaster, plying up and down the Bay of Fundy, wallowing out into the open and bucketing round the Nova Scotia seaboard or down to Portland or Boston, was better than the beach.
“I don’t get you, Mr. Hollister,” he said, trying not to sound aggrieved. He felt clumsy, standing there with his cap in his hands, filling most of the floor space of the tiny waterfront office.
Hollister leaned forward to choose a cigar from a box and light it deliberately. Then, with a thumb in his waistcoat armhole, he lay back in his chair, and his eyes opened wide.
‘‘You don't get me, Blunt, eh? Haven’t I put it plain enough? From now on. you can count on five dollars a week less. Now d’you get me?”
A flicker of apprehension appeared in Dan’s eyes.
‘‘You don’t mean—you’re not thinking of cutting my pay?” he exclaimed anxiously.
‘‘No. I ain’t thinking of it. The thinking’s all over. I’m just telling you.”
‘‘But you can't—you wouldn’t—why, Mr. Hollister, you know I aim to get married. . .”
Hollister grinned. “Look what I’m saving you from!” he retorted.
Dan’s big hands clenched, his jaw quivered. For a moment panic showed in Hollister’s face. But only for a moment. The passion that had flared up in Dan’s eyes died away as quickly as it had risen.
“Very good, sir,” the skipper said quietly, and turned. His shoulders drooped. His anger was all gone, leaving only amazement and consternation. You cannot quarrel with your bread and butter.
TNAN STRODE out of the office, on to the waterfront, where the chill sharp air struck his face. He sniffed the tang of salt, his head flung back.
Lights danced on the dark, smooth water. Dim bulky shapes moved, showing red or green eyes to the quay. A ship’s siren moaned, and was followed by three short imperative blasts from a tugboat. The tall sticks of a three-masted schooner pencilled the darkening sky as she swung to her mooring, headed up-river. A smart Danish coaster, loaded for Boston, edged out and glided swiftly down for the Bay. The tide was on the ebb, rushing out, clucking and gurgling against the quays, splashing against the fiddle-bow of the straining schooner.
The familiar night scene arrested Dan inevitably, and he felt a discomfort in his throat. He was part of it. He belonged. But. .
A figure stood alone under a street lamp—a small, forlorn figure. At the sound of Dan’s footsteps it turned, and the lamp shone upon a young, eager face.
“Well, Dan ! What did he say? Did you get your raise?”
He looked down into the warm, anxious eyes, which were full of confidence, and his heart sank. He knew that Dinah had been counting on that raise. It was going to make all the difference to them both.
Dinah Prior was small, very slight, so 1 hat. a man could not help wanting to protect her from the harshness of life.
Dan shook his head miserably.
“I did not,” he replied. “1 got my pay cut by five dollars; darn near got fired in the bargain.”
She stared, disbelieving; but his tone alarmed her.
“Dan !” she cried disconsolately. He flung out a big, clumsy arm, enveloping her slim shoulders, and she. pressed her face against the rough serge of his coat.
There was comfort there; yet a little while ago she. could not have imagined herself turning to any man for comfort. Dinah had always been a little scornful of men, who were such fools; but meeting Dan had altered all that. There was something about Dan, about lus awkward bulk, his clumsy gentleness, that made her feel soft inside and dissolved the little core of hardness that was her protection against a world not always friendly. /
“Never mind,” he soothed. “We’ll make out.”
That roused her. “Make out!”
She pushed him away, stepping back to look up into his face.
“Oh, will we? And what d’you think we’re going to do while we’re making out? And how long d’you think it’s going to take? And that little skunk—”
Dan listened, stricken dumb. This was a new side of Dinah Prior. He listened for five minutes, while she dilated on Henry Hollister, on Dan Blunt and his prospects, and on the abject folly of Dinah Prior for ever having thought of marrying a man who couldn’t stand up for himself, a man who knuckled under to a cheap little bully like Hollister.
“And I suppose,” she finished up, breathless, “you just stood there like a big sap and said nothing!”
Dan sighed. All this was beyond him. You either got a raise or you didn’t, you got a pay cut or you didn't. No sense in arguing about it. You simply had to accept it. He wanted to think it out.
“He said I could quit if I didn’t like it,” he told Dinah unhappily; and she was silent. They walked along the quiet waterfront. She kept half a yard away from him, as if she did not want to touch him. Her eyes smoldered.
“A great big soft kid !” she told herself angrily, and bit her lip; because if he hadn’t been a big soft kid he wouldn’t have been Dan Blunt, and if he hadn’t been Dan Blunt. . .
She stopped suddenly. They were approaching the wharf where Dan’s ship, the Holly Maid, lay awaiting him.
“All right, Dan,” she said in a voice that was brittle. “I’ve had enough. If you want to marry me, you’d better think up some way of making money right now, because I’m not going to let myself be dependent on a nasty little skunk like Hollister, whatever you choose to do. Even if you’ve got to—”
“And I suppose a coastal skipper’s just turning down chances of making money every day !” Dan retorted. “Talk sense, Dinah.”
Her eyes flashed.
“All right, Dan, I will,” she said sharply. “What about Bing Anderson and that boat he brought in last week? He’s rich now. He got full salvage money—more than you earn in a year. He was telling me last night—”
“I—I see,” Dan interrupted slowly; but Dinah clenched her fists in exasperation.
“No. you don’t! You never see anything. You never use your eyes. What about all those other cases—boats getting into difficulties—it’s always happening, especially with the fogs just now. Nearly every day. . .”
Dan blinked. It took time to assimilate an idea like this. “Bing Anderson’s a tugboat skipper,” he objected mildly. “I'm not. The Holly Maid couldn’t tow nothing bigger than her own dinghy, I reckon. Anyway, how’m I to know there’s a vessel in distress? We don’t run to the radio on an old coasting hooker.”
“Don't be soft, Dan,” Dinah retorted, at the end of her patience. “How many times have you reported a ship in distress— got thanked for your trouble but never collected a cent?”
Dan felt bewildered. But she cut him short when he began to protest.
“All right,” she said.
“That’s enough. Either you find some way of making money, or. . .”
He mumbled something inarticulate, and turned away toward the wharf. His big shoulders were despondent.
He had not taken three steps, however, before she called him back.
“Dan! Wait a moment.” She sounded breathless, a shade frightened. “Aren’t you going to let me wish you luck?”
E LIVENED up at that, and forgot all about his troubles while they said good-by. But when he boarded the Holly Maid and clambered down into the stuffy, odoriferous cuddy below, they returned upon him in full flood. Bing Anderson ! Was that..
Dinah was crazy, with her talk of salvage. What chance had he of picking up anything?
There was a clattering overhead, and a pair of seaboots appeared on the ladder.
Steve Riggs, the mate, came down.
“ ’Lo, Dan,” he greeted. “Mooning?
“You look like it.
“Like heck! Been having a kick-up with Dinah?”
“Stow it,” Dan said
shortly, and rose. “Come on up. Time we were moving.”
The rest of the crew had arrived—Painter, the engineer, and the fireman, and Bill who did whatever nobody else had time to do and, being handy with a frying-pan, called himself the cook. Henry Hollister managed his business on the principle that if a man had plenty to do, he would not find time hanging on his hands. On board the Holly Maid time never hung.
She was a squat, ugly old sow of a ship, and not even Dan could see beauty in her clumsy lines; but she paid her way, she was game, and he had a half-contemptuous affection for
her. Given a fair chance, with more frequent refittings and a touch of paint occasionally, she would have been quite a snug little ship; and she certainly earned plenty of money for Hollister.
She was soon warped out, and dropping downstream with the swift ebb tide, was presently on the dark, white-flecked Bay of Fundy. Dan stood watch.
When he handed over to Steve at midnight, with the lights of the town long since extinguished and a slow Atlantic roll coming up the Bay to meet her, he did not go below. He hung about on deck, standing moodily at the rail, staring out into the blackness and letting his body sway easily to the heave and thrust as the little vessel plugged along and tossed the spray over her nose.
Despondency seized him ; but as he stood there, with the wind whipping his face and an occasional spatter of spume sizzling on his pipe-bowl, his thoughts churning slowly over and over, a determination was born.
The mate was worried. He knew that something was
wrong; but he did not realize until next day what had happened to the skipper.
Dan had gone crazy.
He was looking for salvage.
He rarely went below. He grudged every hour he wasted in his bunk. He hated the shore, the little ports they idled at. He drove the crew and the shore gangs to desperation, hustling them, hazing them, on fire to be back at sea; and the little Holly Maid poked her nose here and there where she
had never been before, zigzagged on odd courses that ate up all the time she saved sweating ashore at loading and discharging, and was often days late in making port.
The obsession grew. Dan combed the Bay, the coasts, for salvage. He went on looking until his eyes grew heavy for lack of sleep, his shoulders drooped and weariness numbed him—and his crew grew mutinous. At every port they visited he went ashore and assiduously asked questions. Weather bulletins absorbed him; he studied his charts with an anxious attention that he had never shown before—for didn’t he know every inch of the Atlantic seaboard, and every bank from the Grand Manan to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland themselves?
TUTE TOOK the Holly Maid forty miles out of her course once because of a rumor of a stranded fishing boat. It turned out to be an ancient wreck firmly wedged between two rocks, baring her bones to the wintry weather.
“Aiming to go into the firewood business. Dan?” the mate
asked innocently. “Maybe you reckon to cut it up and peddle it round town after Hollister’s fired you?”
The skipper said nothing; but from the look on his face Steve judged it prudent to retire below and start a card game with the engineer.
Gloom settled on board. The skipper had gone plumb crazy. He had got salvage on the brain. And now they were more than three days behind schedule on their trip. What would Hollister have to say to that—and to them?
And then it happened.
Fog. It came creeping in from the Atlantic, and it spread a thick white blanket over the sea and awoke anxiety in the eyes of keen-faced, vigilant men on half a hundred ships’ bridges. It called forth soft curses from the smart deck officers of a huge liner bound in from Southampton, round Cape Race; it brought strings of hearty profanity from freighter skippers, and sighs of accustomed resignation from the navigating officers of coasting passenger steamers, and raucous expletives from tugboat skippers who might not find the ships they were to meet and might not therefore be able to charge them for standing by while the fog lasted.
Schoonermen, wallowing in the troughs of the gigantic seas, with no breath of wind quivering the rigging, screwed up salt-crusted eyes and peered into the white opacity with anxiety gnawing at them. The crews of coastguard and preventive cutters pursed their lips and whispered that now there would surely be something stirring.
The fog deepened the gloom on board the lumbering Holly Maid: and it brought a light to the eyes of her master, tramping up and down, gnawing his lower lip, while the little stepsister of the coastwise trade plugged along at half-speed and shouldered the fog aside with stolid caution.
Steve Riggs scowled.
“Well, I guess this about finishes it,” he grumbled. “Three days late —and a fog! Ain’t forgetting what Hollister said last time we were held up by fog, are you, Dan?”
The skipper ignored him. 1 te
went on pacing up and down; and when suddenly the heavy silence— for the rattle of her engines and the thud of her screw and the scrunch of her bows smashing into the waves were silence to Dan—was shattered by a distant braying, he stopped abruptly in his tracks and spun round.
He grew tense, his hands taking a firmer grip of the cold rail. The distant siren roared again—nearer, a lot nearer. Dan’s eyes kindled. Once more—and this time faint, distant, elusive. He relaxed. His whole body fell slack, and he stood there, drooping, absently sucking a now empty pipe.
Steve, at the wheel, shook himself impatiently.
“We’ll be here a week!” he groaned.
Dan said nothing. He had heard all this before. It had been a daily litany, almost, in the last two weeks.
“Why don’t you say something, you dumbhead?” Steve went on. half snarling. “All your fault. Salvage! Cruising up and down like a doggone yacht ! I want to keep my job—get me? Even if you don’t. Next time we tie up at home I spill the beans, see? Frozen still—wet clean through—dodging about for no sane reason! I got a girl back home, same as you—only I mean to get married.”
Dan bit at the stem of his pipe. His eyes smoldered, but he said nothing. Only he kept looking— looking. This was the very weather for it, this was what they needed. ■••/ƒ Fog
And then it began to blow.
TT WAS the strangest thing: First a breath, the fog parting; then a chill pressure on the cheek, and a stay rattling, then a stiffer breeze that skimmed the tops off the waves, spattered spray on the deck and on the salt-caked smokestack. The wind was dead abeam. It whipped
up a cross sea, and set the old ship plunging and rolling.
She made heavy weather of it. It took them all their time to keep her on the course they set as the fog thinned, and thinned. Seas sluiced over, crashed upon the hatches, deluged out through the lee scuppers.
The wind strengthened. It rose to gale force; and the little Holly Maid wallowed and twisted and rolled and plunged along for the shelter of the Bay, homeward bound.
Soon they were both at the wheel, fighting with it. It demanded all their combined strength. Down below, Painter
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Fog on Fundy
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cursed and grumbled and tied up a damaged hand in a sopping handkerchief.
Daylight faded. Clouds were solid, massing from windward, black and ominous. They blotted out the grey light, the leaden sky, the spume-swept sea. But there was shelterahead, under the lee of the peninsula; and at last the weather eased, and Dan, mopping his streaming face, opened his slicker and wrung out the muffler he had stuffed under the collar.
Steve Riggs could handle the wheel alone. Dan stamped about to restore the circulation in his numbed feet; and suddenly he blinked and rubbed his eyes.
They had run in fairly close for shelter, and the great mass loomed up to starboard, a deeper black against the blackness of night. A light burned clearly, almost abeam, and Dan could swear that it was moving.
He could not credit his senses. Yet there it was. He stared at it. trying to shake off the dullness that had clouded his wits. In spite of fatigue, in spite of despair, he was alert now, and his sailorman’s intuition was swifter than thought. That light was moving, slowly, up and down.
It began to fall astern; and the night played them another trick. The clouds dispersed, opened slowly. A pale shimmer came on the heaving water, grew, and suddenly the moon was out. It was near the full, and Dan held his breath and bit clean through the stem of his pipe, which clattered on to the deck.
There was a ship there. What he had seen was her masthead light, still burning. And she was ashore. He could tell by the jerks of the light, that was clearer now.
Dan moved. “Steve!” he yelled. “Look there! To starboard—”
The mate gave him a quick look, and squinted over his shoulder. His jaw dropped a little.
“Holy Joe!” he said in a hushed voice. “A ship ashore!”
Dan let out a great shout.
“A ship ashore ! Why, you dumbhead, it’s salvage—salvage !”
Steve started. He abandoned the wheel and took a quick step across the deck.
“No!” he exclaimed. “By heck, no! I’ve stood for all—”
“Shut your jaw. Get back to the wheel. Hard over. Stand in for that light. We’re going in.”
Riggs went right up to the skipper, and clenched his fists.
“Like heck we are!” he retorted. “We’re keeping on our course—see? We’ve done enough fooling. We're making for port, and we’re not piling up on any blasted reef tor all the blasted wrecks in creation. Just you try—”
Dan stared at him, levelly. His eyes smoldered. There was more than anger in them, there was a hint ot madness; the madness of his passionate search. One stride brought him chest to chest with the mate.
“You going to obey my orders?” he demanded. in a low tone. “You heard ’em, didn’t you?”
“I heard and I’ll—”
“Take that wheel. Put her about.”
FOR A MOMENT longer Steve stared him out; then suddenly he turned on his heel, went back to his post. The old coaster had fallen off a bit, not much, for the sea was shifting, tending to swing and travel with her up the Bay, surging round the end of the land. The tide was on the flood.
Steve spun the spokes. The Holly Maid brought her snub nose round slowly, until she headed direct for the quivering light ashore, rising and falling as the seas pounded the wreck.
Cutting across the seas, there was a bit of a iabble, and the ship took to rolling again, wildly. It brought Painter up from the engine room to enquire what the blazes was happening; but he cut below with remarkable agility at a word from Dan.
They were close in now. Black fangs showed up, crowned with white foam, and at last Dan signalled to Steve to swing her round, bring her head on to the wind and sea. He rang for dead slow, then “stand by.” and the Holly Maid lay wallowing, heaving on the swell, drifting slowly astem along the coast. Dan yelled for Bill, the cook and handyman. In a moment they had the smallboat cut adrift, lowered over the stem. Dan slid down into it.
Alone, he rowed for the shore, allowing a heavy warp to snake out from the bottom of the boat as he pulled. An end was made fast on board the Holly Maid.
The little craft skipped and danced and pirouetted on the wave crests, but Dan gritted his teeth and put his back into the work. It took every ounce of his strength to correct the swift set of the tide along the shore, and slowly, yard by yard, he drew nearer to the light.
At last he could squint over his shoulder and make out details—a small coasting vessel, smaller than the Holly Maid, jammed stern-on upon the rocks. Either she had rammed Nova Scotia backward or else she had drifted aground and by some freak of the tide had swung bow-out and stuck. In a few moments now Dan was close alongside, and in the lee she made for him he rested on his oars, taking a turn of the warp round a thwart.
He stared up in the moonlight at the hull rising gaunt and black above him, shuddering with each successive drive of the sea that sent a swirl of broken water round to toss the smallboat wildly.
He hailed; but there was no response, and he heaved on the warp to drag himself forward again, toward the bow of the stranded ship. A rhythmic clanking attracted him, above the pounding of the seas and the scrunch as the hull shifted a little with each impact. From the starboard hawsepipe forward her cable hung, swinging free. Her anchor apparently was gone.
Dan snatched at the lunging chain, held it although it nearly jerked him out of the boat. Working swiftly, he made the boat’s painter fast to it, then cast off the warp and tied the end round his waist. He stood up precariously and took a fresh grip of the cable. The smallboat surged away from under his feet, and he was dragged over the gunwale. But he clung, and with a sailor’s agility he started to swarm up.
Gasping, he pitched down on to the fo’c s’lehead. His hands were barked and bleeding, he was badly bruised, his head sang from a crack he had received against the unyielding steel plates; but he had succeeded. He picked himself up, and staggered aft for a rapid inspection.
THE SHIP was deserted, abandoned by her crew, who must have made their way ashore. There was little sign of chaos; he had no time to go below. He went stumbling forward again, and with numbed and aching fingers made the warp fast to the towing bitts in the bow. Then he shinned down the swinging chain, found the smallboat where it nosed and grated against the hull, and dropped into the sternsheets.
He cut the painter, and began the long stiff row.
It took the best part of half an hour; but at last the rust-stained hull of the Holly Maid loomed up, and a line was flung. He dragged himself on board.
“Now then, Steve!” he gasped. “Slowahead to take up the slack. Head her out. Easy !”
The telegraph shrilled. There was a grinding clatter from below-, a quiver as the engines began to turn again, the slow deliberate thudding of the screw. The Holly Maid got steerage w-ay on her, swung, maddeningly slowly, until her stern was to the land. The warp lay heavy, trailing over to disappear beneath the water.
She rolled and staggered, surging side-
ways with each big wave that took lier on the beam; but slowly, slowly, the warp tightened, lifted and dipped, lifted again. It came out of the water, drew taut.
There was a terrific jerk that brought her up all standing, and the warp went slack again as she surged astern. Dan rang for half speed. She forged ahead again. The warp tightened. Again that savage jerk, just as Dan rang for full speed. The warp held. The screw threshed, the bows yawed wildly, heaving out of the water as the coaster appeared to sit down on her stem. But suddenly the yawing ceased, her stern rose again, she was moving forward.
Dan put his head down the engine-room companion.
“Full speed. Painter! Let her have it!" he yelled.
She had it. The warp held. For what seemed an eternity she labored, strained and groaned. Then there was a sudden trembling. a shudder that went right through her hull, and she went staggering forward with a rush. Dan. peering astern, saw a dim bulk moving behind them at the end of the warp.
The beam sea took the tow, hurling her sideways; but even so the warp held, and they fought to gain distance, to get clear of the shore. They were out at last in the open Bay, and Dan headed her up.
What followed was nightmare. With the tow yawing wildly, coming up on them in fierce rushes, falling back to jerk savagely at the line that held her. they jilugged slowly on, until with daylight breaking they made the mouth of the Digby entrance.
THERE WAS matter for conjecture over Digby breakfast tables. The old Holly Maid had come in overnight, and was tied up to the quay with not a sign of life on board; and another coaster was beached in the shallows, where the tide had left her almost high and dry.
Dan slept late. So did the men who had abandoned his salvage half an hour before the Holly Maid stood in to snatch her off. They liad tramped a long way that night, and slept the sleep of the righteously distressed in a Digby hotel. Only the captain had delayed to make his rejxirt, telling of engine breakdown, of drifting helpless in the fog, of being stranded, driven ashore.
The owners cabled. A man was coming immediately from Saint John. Was the ship a total loss? It had been a night of storm.
The captain went down to the quay to meet him. his crew trailing behind. They got a shock. They reached the quay at the same moment as the owner came ashore from the Saint John steamer—at the same time as Dan Blunt, stifling a prodigious yawn, clambered up on to the Holly Maid’s deck. They all stood and looked at each other. Dan was the first to move. He climbed on to the quay.
“Mr. Hollister,” he exclaimed, and felt a sudden alarm.
Hollister scowled at him.
“I’m busy,” he snapped. “You keep out o’ this. And what the heck are you doing here, anyway? Ain’t you due in Saint John two days ago? I’ll talk to you later. One of our ships, the. Jenny Wren, piled up last
night along the coast. Total loss, they say. Caught in that sea. Sorry to lose her. Well, you?” He swung round on the other skipper. “Don’t stand there gaping. Where is she?”
The skipper gulped. His eyes goggled. He lifted an arm and pointed a shaking finger.
“Th-there, Mr. Hollister. It’s her—on the beach—”
Hollister ripped out an oath.
“You—you—on the beach! It’s her, righ t enough ! Y ou—’ ’
He became inarticulate. Dan hemmed loudly, and stepped forward.
“I got to report, Mr. Hollister,” he said, filling his chest. “Last night I saw a vessel aground on the rocks and took her in tow and salvaged her. We beached her here this morning at—”
Hollister’s mouth hung open, like a gaping cod’s. A sudden new fear shot through Dan’s mind. Of all the luck. He had salvaged one of their own boats! It was goodby to any hope of salvage money now. But Hollister had tound tongue. He came forward, a bundle of blazing fury, and shook a puny fist under Dan’s nose.
“You—you interfering nitwit! See what you done! She’d ’a’ been broken up by now, but for you. A total loss ! And she was insured for four times her—”
He bit his tongue, trying to snatch back the words. But he was too late. Dan’s puzzled eyes widened, and for once he acted ashore on a sailorman’s intuition. He burst through the little knot of men like a tornado and legged it along the quay.
“After him! Stop him!” Hollister yelled;
but there was no chance. Dan thudded along, regardless. He did not pause until he was well in the town, and then it was only to snap a question at an astonished passer-by. He changed course and charged on. Two minutes later he was making his deposition; and after that the telegraph clerk received the longest message he had ever been asked to send.
TJTOLLISTER looked grim. So did the ^ court. Only two people seemed unaware of the forbidding and unfriendly atmosphere. Skipper Dan Blunt looked down at the small proud figure by his side, and Dinah Prior gazed up in adoration at the clumsy giant whose big hand completely covered her own. And they smiled.
There had been no engine breakdown on the salvaged ship. And with the set of the tide she must have gone, ashore with her engines hard astern, to wedge her there. She was not even badly holed, had suffered little damage. But even a few hours on the rocks with that sea running would have been enough to break her back.
“Well, say!” Dan cried, when it was all over. “If that don’t beat the band! Cap a man be a shipowner when he’s in jail? Looks like I’m out of a job.”
“Nitwit!” said Dinah, with proprietary tolerance. “They’ll have to sell up. And the old Holly Maid will be going for a song. For less than the salvage on the Jenny Wren. I always wanted to marry a captain who owned his own ship.”
She had a way of getting what she wanted.