THE MISSION ship J. J. Gustavson, home port Victoria, skipper The Reverend Peter O’Bannion, lay at anchor in the salt-water lagoon known to British Columbia gas boat men as Hole-in-the-Rock. Mountains hung over her, the steep timbered hills of the Vancouver Island west coast. Outside the lagoon the first gale of autumn was pounding the reefs with a sledge-hammer surf, but the Gustavson’s ancient white hull, 38 feet between flared bows and canoe stern, floated in a quicksilver calm. Padre O’Bannion stood in the open cockpit, aft of the doghouse, feet wide apart and hands thrust into the hip pockets of his saltbleached dungarees. His accordion, gift of the Shamus Bay loggers one Christmas long ago, lay unheeded on the supply locker beside him. There was an anxious jut to his scrubby, grizzled Vandyke beard, and his mild blue eyes were crinkled in a squint behind their spectacles as he watched the yellow seaplane circle in for a landing.
“Lord, make them dip a wing,” Padre O’Bannion prayed, while his teeth clamped harder on his shortstemmed black brier. “Please, Lord, make them have found her.”
But the B. C. Airways pilot came down without the roll that would have told of something sighted—a rainbow acre of oil slick among the Pacific greybacks, wreckage of a shattered fuselage on a reef or, unbelievably, smoke misting up through the spruce to tell where Karen Maclvor tended a lonely fire and waited for rescue.
Padre O’Bannion loosed his breath in a sigh.
Was it a hunch—or faith— that sent Padre O'Bannion to sea in the storm? Was it luck—or a miracle—that rescued Karen Maclvor?
Without turning his head he called to EngineerDeacon Hoy Duck, who was clattering about at his supper preparations below.
“Get Maclvor on the radiophone, Hoy. Tell him Lance and Johnny are back. They’ve had no luck.”
THE GIRL was dead, of course, her slender loveliness broken in the timber or quenched in the wild water beyond the reefs. Reason had told him so even when he offered up his prayer. They’d launched the search 12 days ago, bush pilots, Royal Canadian Air Force and even U. S. Coast Guard scouting far out to sea, trailing the shadow of their wings over every reach and inlet that dented 400 miles of shore line. Now only the B. C. Airways Norseman remained, questing even after all reasonable hope was gone, because Padre O’Bannion still retained his naïve belief in miracles and because Lance Graydon refused to toss in his hand.
Hoy poked his head out of the doghouse. His driedwalnut face, punctuated startlingly by slanting Mephistopheles eyebrows, was even more morose than usual.
“Better you come, Padlee,” he called. “Mist’ Maclvah on line. Want talk with you.”
The mine superintendent didn’t sound at all like the red-necked Scotsman who less than a fortnight earlier had poured the troubles attendant on governing a featherbrained daughter into Padre O’Bannion’s unsympathetic ear. His voice was still gruff, but the hopelessness in it sank a barb into the mission skipper’s heart.
“No use kidding ourselves any longer,” Maclvor said. “If Karen was alive we’d have found her. Padre, you’d better call ’em off.” He continued, after a moment’s silence, in the same lifeless voice, “I don’t know how to thank you. But next time you put the bee on me fot your new mission ship fund, you’ll get a different answer.”
“Forget that, Mac,” Padre O’Bannion told him. “And stop reproaching yourself. I know you thought you were doing what was best for Karen.”
Maclvor did not answer immediately. Waiting, listening to the eerie hum of static on the line, Padre O’Bannion pictured the mine boss, alone in his office at the Pathfinder Gold Quartz camp, sagging over his telephone.
“I told her she wasn’t going to.marry any cardsharp while I was here to stop her. She called me a tyrant, Padre. A bullheaded tyrant. Those were her last words. She whipped out of here with her red hair flying. Before I could make a move she was into the company seaplane and halfway down the bay. I watched her climb into the fog . . . She was such a live kid, Padre, sweet even when my temper was coming out in her. I still can’t believe it. Maybe I was wrong about Lance Graydon, too. I’m—not sure of anything any more.”
All this Padre O’Bannion had heard before. The static hum was rising, and he spoke urgently, hoping his voice would get through. “Mac, don’t give up hope. We’ve both seen miracles in our time. Even this late, if the Lord so wills ...”
The static closed in completely. He replaced the headset in its cubbyhole, and, with none of his usual spryness, climbed to the deck. The gale was still building; wind harped in the timber of the sidehills and an occasional gust drove over the saddle between the two northerly summits to lay a dulling catspaw on the mirror face of the lagoon.
Bow waves subsided before the taxiing Norseman’s floats as Johnny Bergman cut his motor. He scrambled out of the cabin to heave his mooring line. Padre O’Bannion caught the coil and made fast. The bush pilot swung aboard the mission ship, a tanned, wiry little man in leather jacket and khaki denims, with blue company cap pushed far back on a mop of blond hair. Weariness deepened the weather lines around eyes and mouth.
“No dice, Padre,” he said. “We scouted far north
as Quatsino, then clear over the mountains to Nimpkish Lake. Way the weather’s shaping we won’t be able to do much tomorrow.”
Reluctantly Padre O’Bannion answered the question in his eyes. “Maclvor thinks we should call it off, Johnny.”
“Nothing else to do,” the pilot conceded. “•Still, Mac’s not paying this charter. It’s up to you, Padre. You and Lance.” He stumped on stiff legs across the deck to the doghouse, where Engineer-Deacon Hoy was banging his dishpan with a ladle in invitation to dine.
LANCE GRAYDON, moving slowly, climbed down i from the Norseman’s cabin. His brown tweeds were unpressed but he still wore them with the swagger that was part of him. About him, in his lean frame and his handsome young-old face, was a suggestion of hardness and latent power. Padre O’Bannion, who knew better than anyone else the strain under which the gambler had been living since this search began, studied him without attempting to hide his concern. Tiredness, verging on exhaustion, lack of sleep and scant food, had flattened his olive cheeks to gauntness. Sun glare and sea glitter had given his black eyes a blind, unfocused look. Iron man he might be, but even Graydon must have his breaking point. An odd, punctilious friendship had developed between them since Graydon came back from the war, to drift from camp to camp along the coast. Padre O’Bannion had never attempted to enquire into his background. He knew, though, that Graydon had served as a bomber pilot, and suspected that he had held wing commander’s rank at the least. He had failed, or perhaps not even tried, to readjust himself to civilian life—that is, until he walked down a steamer gangplank at Pathfinder and saw Karen Maclvor on the dock, west wind blowing her bright hair back from the golden oval of her face, and laughter in her green eyes.
If I’d known, Padre O’Bannion thought bitterly, if I’d only been able to see ahead, I wouldn’t have hesitated. I’d have married them at Pathfinder when they came to me.
Surely that night belonged to a more distant past than May . . . Padre O’Bannion laid a light hand on Graydon’s shoulder, and, not speaking, they went below.
Hoy served them, hissing softly between his teeth as he shuffled between galley stove and swingout table with tin plates of rock cod and potatoes.
“You plenty late,” he remarked crankily. “How you think I keep chow hot, hey?”
Unable even in his depression to stifle an inward smile, Padre O’Bannion observed that Graydon’s plate was more generously heaped than the others. The engineer-deacon’s habitual crustiness, he had learned in the 20 years of their missionary cruising, masked a heart soft as butter.
Graydon pushed his plate away almost untouched. He took a cigarette from a thin sterling case, lit it
from a monogrammed lighter and leaned back, staring at some point over Padre O’Bannion's head Presently Hoy slopped coffee into their mugs Padre O’Bannion loaded his pipe from the tin of Butternut Hill, which was the one extravagance in his Spartan existence. Not until the tobacco was drawing sweetly did he find courage to speak.
“It may be several days before we have decent flying weather again. Maclvor thinks we should call it off.”
Graydon spoke in his easy drawl, not shifting his gaze. “You think so too, Padre?”
“1 don’t know what to think. We’ve done everything possible, boy. 1 guess we both know that.” “I’ve heard it said that you believed in miracles. You don’t think your Boss might deal us one still?”
“1 do,” Padre O’Bannion answered stoutly, “and I want you to believe it as well. But we’ve gone us far as we can under our own power. ”
Graydon leaned his forearms on the table His lips thinned in a strange, tight smile.
“You know, Padre,” he said, “you’re a gambling man. That thought never occurred to you, did it? It’s true, though—gambling is in your blood, just as it is in mine. The only real difference between us is that what you call faith I call a hunch. I believe in luck. You look for miracles.”
He went on, as if talking to himself, “Well, there’s an hour of daylight left. Time enough for one last
Bergman got up from the side locker, reaching behind him for his jacket. “Time for a short one,” he agreed laconically. “No—you stay put. The way your eyes are you wouldn’t see the plane if we was on top of it.”
Padre O’Bannion followed him to the deck. The pilot hesitated, frowning while he took a last deep drag on his cigarette.
“You’re sure Karen was heading for Vancouver, huh?”
“That’s what her father thought. She told him she was going to find Lance and marry him regardless ” “You took him south from Pathfinder to catch the steamer at Ucluelet after Maclvor blew up. She know that, too?”
“Not unless somebody told her at Pathfinder. What’s on your mind, Johnny?”
“Nothing much. Only I figure somebody did tell her, Padre. Look—if she was bound for Vancouver she’d have turned inland 20 minutes below Pathfinder She knew the route like the back of her hand, and that day she’d have run clear of the fog before she was over the mountains. I think her father and those Air Force guys was wrong. I don’t believe she ever did head for Vancouver.”
“Where, then? Where else could she have gone?” “Straight south, along this coast, believing Lance was still with you, and looking for the Gustavson. I’m going back over Quonset Harbor, Padre, and I’m flying closer in than I’ve any business doing. The way I see it, that’s our last chance.”
“It’s risky. Too much so in a blow like this, Johnny.”
BERGMAN grinned, and tossed his butt over the side. “You talking about risks is plain funny! You’ve got a pile of scrap for an engine The Gustavson is so leaky you can hear the water trickling through her seams. But you still take her places where I wouldn’t want to be in an ocean-going tugboat. Sometimes 1 think you need looking after a lot more than the people you’re everlastingly yanking out of trouble. Lance was right—you’re a gambler from away back. Sure it’s risky! If Lance was some tinhorn sport instead of a square shooter I wouldn’t try it."
He dropped to the Norseman’s near float Long
after he had taxied Continued on page 30
Continued from page 17
down the lagoon and lifted the seaplane into the windy sky Padre O’Bannion stood staring after him, his accordion between his hands. What Bergman had just said and Graydon’s quiet, bitter words were hard to get out of his mind.
Faith and a hunch . . . luck and miracles . . . perhaps they were right,
! and, in his own way, he also was a ¡ gambler. Apart from his preaching suit of rusty clerical serge he owned just the clothes he stood in: dungarees, hip boots patched with red inner tubing and turned down in piratical cuffs, frayed Siwash sweater with a band of black bears ramping across the chest. The supply locker was empty save for a scattering of potatoes. This charter, shared with Graydon, had eaten almost to the bottom of his new mission ship fund, already depleted by : a raid for the family burned out last month at Fernandez Arm. Yet he 8lso knew, with a sureness that he could neither rationalize nor explain, that the Lord would continue to be his Provisionen It had been that way ever since his converted troller first plodded north to fish for souls instead of salmon in the great waters between Washington State and the Alaska line. The Gustavson was, simply, a tramp. No denomination backed her. She was not fit to share an anchorage with the big, well-found vessels of the Columbia Coast Mission—craft whose names were as dear to isolated coast dwellers as those of their closest friends. But Padre O’Bannion never doubted that the Lord sailed with the Gustavson just as He did with all the mission ships on their errands of salvation and mercy.
He attempted to follow further along the disturbing avenue of thought that Graydon had opened. But his tired brain boggled; and anyway he had never been strong on theology. He’d always been too busy, too much occupied with the day-by-day demands of his work. In affairs of the spirit he was prone to navigate by instinct, much as he navigated his mission ship i when the passages were blind with fog. Padre O’Bannion bowed his head, while wind in the mountain spruce took on a deep organ note. “Lord,” he prayed, “Lord, deal us a miracle!” Graydon came up to lounge against the doghouse beside him. Over the peaks the sky was still bright with a windy afterglow, but Hole-in-the-Rock was now a bottomless bowl of shadow.
“Don’t tell me if you’d rather not,” Padre O’Bannion said quietly at length, “but I’ve wondered often just what did happen at Pathfinder. All I’ve had is Maclvor’s version.”
Graydon lit another cigarette. “You’ve a right to know, Padre. After all, you helped bring Karen into this cockeyed world, didn’t you?”
“On my first trip north,” Padre O’Bannion told him. “Twenty years ago in November ... it doesn’t seem that long. There was no doctor at Pathfinder then, and Maclvor hadn’t got her mother outside in time. Didn’t think the event was so near, I gathered.”
“Maclvor runs to faulty judgments,” Graydon said. “He wouldn’t believe I’d come in from the brush, either.”
“I know. But don’t holdthatagainst him. I must admit, Lance, that I had grave doubts myself.”
“You said that night you wouldn’t marry us as long as I lived by the cards. Would you have stuck to it?” “No. Not with the knowledge I now have of you. I’d Pave married you, Lance, and worked on you later.”
“With Karen’s help.” Graydon
laughed without humor. “Well, I tore up my decks, Padre. My intention was to make a stake, then pick up things where I dropped them before the war, brush off my law-school diploma and hang out a shingle somewhere. I took a job mucking in the mine. That’s hard work—until you’ve tried it you haven’t any idea ho w hard. I mucked all summer, then 1 braced Maclvor. Asked him for his daughter’s hand just like they do in the books. He went up like an ammunition dump. Said I’d only been making a stake so I could get a game rolling, and told me to get to hell out of his camp. If Karen had been there, instead of up at Nootka, I think she’d have left with me.”
“In which I should have encouraged her,” Padre O’Bannion said warmly. “I would have married you then, Lance.”
THEY waited, thinking their own thoughts, while the afterglow faded. Padre O’Bannion pumped softly at his accordion, seeking to ease his mood with one of the sad old logging ballads dear to his heart. Presently Hoy came up from below, his supper dishes washed, to stand at the stern, wiping his hands on the long grey rainshirt which he wore with collar upturned around his ears and tails flapping outside his belt. Faintly, far away to the north, they heard the pulse of the seaplane’s motor. Johnny Bergman was bringing her home.
Padre O’Bannion’s nose told him that Hoy had raided his tin of Butternut Hill for yet another of the cherootsized wheat-straw quirlies that he favored, but he was too dispirited to protest. He was reaching for a match to kindle his pipe when the motor voice deepened suddenly to a full-throated roar. Johnny wasn’t skirting the shore line but was cutting straight across the height of land from Quonset.
Two stars, a red and a green, blinked in the saddle between the peaks that formed the northern rampart of Holein-the-Rock. They slanted down on parallel courses, a wing’s length apart, and a drumroll of echoes bounced back from the flanks of the hills.
Graydon heaved himself up from where he squatted cross-legged on the deck. Padre O’Bannion rose too, feeling tension gather like a hard knot in the pit of his stomach.
The red star climbed and the green star swept down in a short arc, then both wing-lights went out.
“I be gollied!” Excitement kited Hoy’s voice to a reedy squeak. “Mist’ Bergman dlop a wing. He find her!” Softly, into the deepening darkness, Padre O’Bannion breathed, “Thank You, Lord!”
Graydon took a cigarette from his case. His face, in the brief golden flare of the lighter, was oddly calm. “She may be dead,” he said. “He may just have sighted wreckage. But I think the luck’s turned, Padre.”
Bergman power-stalled the Norseman to a landing on the phosphorescent surface of the lagoon. The floats plowed twin furrows of seafire as he taxied down to the mission ship. He cut his motor, and before the hills had returned their final echo he was clambering over the Gustavson’s side. There was a quick, dark drip from the bush pilot’s chin to the deck. He spoke thickly. “She’s alive, at least I figure she is. On the beach at the head of Quonset, in past the river mouth.” Graydon slung an arm around him, half-carried him down to the doghouse. Waiting no order, Hoy fed a handful of dry cedar into his galley stove and plunked his coffee pot over the quickleaping flames. Hunched on the side locker Bergman spoke in gusty sentences while Padre O’Bannion, medical
kit open on the table, doctored the two-inch gash on his jaw.
“She’s a water show from here on, boys. Even in a daylight calm I couldn’t sideslip a plane into that hole. Not in one piece, anyhow. First time over I spotted smoke. Made another pass, so close my wing tips was knocking cones off the spruce, and there she was, lying in the lee of a drift log on a mess of boughs. She was face down, and she didn’t stir. Don’t think she even heard me. But the fire was still burning—she must have tended it not so long before.”
Hoy set a steaming mug at his elbow, and Padre O’Bannion delved into the kit for a squat black bottle.
“Medicinal rum,” he explained a trifle defensively as he gave Bergman’s coffee a stiff lacing. “We carry it strictly for emergencies.”
The pilot drank, shuddered, and gave him a watery-eyed blink. “Tastes like real old Navy stuff to me,” he muttered. “Downdraft tossed me into a spin. Nearly yanked me through my safety belt, and I cracked my face on the instrument panel straightening out. All I saw of her plane was a wing sticking up from the drift. She must have left Pathfinder only half gassed and pancaked through a hole in the fog when her motor conked. If she really is alive it’s . . . it’s . . .”
“A miracle,” Padre O’Bannion finished for him.
“Yeah. And if they get her out it’ll be a bigger one. It’s blowing blue murder outside.”
“We’ll get her out,” Graydon said. “Lie back, Johnny. You need a rest.”
The Gustavson was rocking gently on water touched by the merest backlash of the gale that clamored outside Hole-in-the-Rock; the cabin lamp swayed in its gimbals, touching the gambler’s hard young face with transient highlights. “We’ll get her out,” he repeated, and in his tone was a subtle defiance, a challenge tossed at the inimical principalities of night and storm.
Padre O’Bannion nodded. North, south, down the long inlets, waiting out the blow in other such havens as Hole-in-the-Rock, were the husky vessels that could and would handle this job. Big offshore trollers, Diesel powered, built for such weather as the San Juans breed, and the Swiftsure Bank, and the open sounds beyond Cape Cook. Seiners, packers, deepchested tugboats ... he thought of them and of their skippers, his friends, with a warmth that brought a smile to his eyes as he turned to the radiotelephone. Some of those skippers had already squandered time and fuel in the search. Any of them would help now. Only first he had to reach them, and recollecting how Maclvor’s voice had pinched out that afternoon he knew a sudden resurgence of anxiety.
HEADSET tucked between shoulder and beard he set to work. More times than he could remember he had sent his call into the night like this, asking help when the Gustavson’s own resources weren’t sufficient for the job. The dials twirled under his expert fingers. He called and waited, called again and again. His answer was only the dreary rising and falling wail of static. He twisted the dials more urgently. If he could only get through for a moment, establish a single contact, that would be enough.
Graydon was standing behind him. Hoy’s eyebrows were drawn into a dark frown. A coldness began to spread around his heart, and his throat was dry as he called yet again.
“I’ll give ’em a try from the plane,” Bergman volunteered. “Got more
J power in my radio. Night like this, you ^ need it ”
Padre O’Bannion was still struggling ' to make contact when the pilot returned, worry creasing his forehead.
“Looks like we’re stymied, Padre. I can’t get through either. The static’s something gosh-awful.”
It was quiet in the cabin, so quiet that the soft complaining of the Gustavson’s hull came distinctly to their ears. Padre O’Bannion raised his head, reluctantly, feeling Graydon’s intent black gaze upon him.
! “I believe in backing a hunch to the limit,” the gambler said. “Isn’t it part of your doctrine that faith and works go together, Padre?”
“Listen, Lance!” Bergman spoke sharply, almost angrily. “We know how you feel about Karen but forget what you’re thinking. Put it right out ; of your head!”
I “Twelve days is a long time when ! you’re bushed,” Graydon said, as if he hadn’t heard him. “Maybe too long if you’re a girl and hurt. Her plane only j carried emergency rations for a week, even if she was able to reach them. At the least she’s starving. Tomorrow may be too late. But it’s for you to say, Padre. Is your faith as strong as my hunch?”
“Forget it,” Bergman repeated. “This cabbage crate wouldn’t live 10 minutes outside tonight!”
Padre O’Bannion swung away from the radiotelephone to front them, a short, wide man with worry undisguised upon his face, but with jaw set pugnaciously under his brush of beard.
“Faith and works, is it?” he snapped. “Before this night’s over I’ll give you such a dose of both you won’t forget it to your dying day!” He snatched his sou’wester from its hook, clapped it on his sparsely thatched head and settled it with a vicious tug. “D’you think I’ll give up just because we can’t raise someone to do the job for us? We’ve been granted a miracle—yes, Lance, a miracle—and, so help me, we’ll ride it through.”
He thrust his five-celled miners’ flashlight into Graydon’s hands. “Now come if you’re coming. Since neither your hunch nor my faith will heave the dinghy off the doghouse roof and lash it astern, I’ll need a hand . . . You, Hoy, stop grinning at me! You’d best go over to the plane with Johnny for the night.”
“S’pose you go plumb to hot place,” the engineer-deacon suggested calmly. He was already shuffling about, securing his pots arid pans in their racks. “What you evah know ’bout engine, hey? No more’n monkey! I go ’long with you.”
Padre O’Bannion headed for the deck. Staring after him, Bergman loosed a low whistle. “Now what brought that on?” he demanded. “Lance, what the devil did you say to get his Irish up?”
“Not Mist’ Glaydon,” Hoy corrected as he doused the embers in his stove with the last of the coffee. “Was you. You call Gustavson cabbage elate!”
“That I don’t savvy,” Bergman muttered. “He’s been beefing for the last 10 years about how much he needs a new ship. Well, I’ll hold the Norseman here, Lance. Get Karen off and I’ll bust every rule in the book to fly her to hospital.”
RAIN was falling in a steady, chill drizzle from a sky only less black than the water. The mission ship chugged down the lagoon with the ebb tide adding knots to her speed. Padre O’Bannion stood with his hands wrapped around the spokes of the wheel. The doghouse roof was level with his chest, and he peered along it toward the phantom ruffle of tide rips that marked the gut connecting Holein-the-Rock with the open Pacific. He was cold to his very bones, shivering with a chill that came only in part from the night. There had been genuine anger in his below-decks outburst, but in part he had simply been lashing up his courage, strengthening his defenses against fear. He had taken the
Gustavson into and out of many tight spots, but his every instinct urged him to swing the spokes, to turn their bows away from the pass. He knew much too well what waited them outside. Even with double the horsepower, 10 feet more of hull, it would be touch and go. And when they made Quonset
provided they did make it the toughest part of their venture was still before them.
He heard Graydon’s voice behind him, conversational, faintly amused. “1 said you were a gambling man, Padre. I’m playing for the biggest personal stake I could have. What are you in this for?”
“There’s a time and a place for selfanalysis.” Padre O’Bannion bit hard on his words; tl' > first rips were swinging the Gustafson’s stern, and (he wheel was fighting him like a live thing. “I’ll wrap my motives up in a special sermon for you if the Lord brings us out of this. You rigged that oilcan as I told you?”
“1 saw to it. You’ve been roped into a sucker play, Padre. Since you won’t name your stake I’ll set one for you. i You and Hoy stand to lose the Gustavson as well as your lives. If we win I’ll tap Maclvor’s next payroll for . you. I’ll guarantee you a down payment on that Diesel 6f>-fooler you mutter about in your sleep.”
“Shut up!” Padre O’Bannion barked at him. “For heaven’s sake, Lance, don’t confuse me further. Grab some, thing and hang on here we go!” j They were into the pass, tobogganing down the humped central current of a salt-water river that boiled out of Holein-the-Rock at a full nine knots. Its j voice in their ears was like an endless tearing of silk. Bluffs, dim-seen, ghosted by to port and starboard. Then, with a thud that jarred her from stem to stern, the mission ship crashed against the stiff, curling line of breakers that marked the meeting of wind and tide. Spray in a blinding sheet lashed over the doghouse, stinging their faces I like hurled shot. The bow heaved off its weight of water, and the Gustavson i reared wildly. Her engine faltered,
! coughed and caught again, laboring like an old horse on a hill. She coasted ; down a terrifying incline, mounted the j opposite slope and hung there, propeller ! threshing free while an ebony-and! silver mountain slid under her keel.
Padre O’Bannion dragged air deep into his lungs. He shook the spray from his eyes and took a fresh grip on the spokes, bracing himself for the claustrophobic dive into the next trough. Beside him Graydon was clinging to the stubby mast. The Gustavson had battled west coast weather before, but this was going to be dustier than anything in her experience.
If drown they must, at least it would be in open water! Padre O’Bannion noted with fleeting surprise that they had clawed away from the surf, putting the spouting reefs astern. Tide helping, they were threading a path over the toppling Pacific hills and through the sinister valleys between. Often enough, yearning over his new mission ship fund, Padre O’Bannion had told himself he’d be heartily glad to see the last of the Gustavson. Now, easing the wheel a spoke to avoid the crest of a crumbling avalanche, he found himself stirred by dour pride in his vessel. He’d always known her lines were sound! Larger craft with less cunning in their design might well have foundered back there in the jumble of pyramiding cross seas at the mouth of the pass. With pride came an upsurging of confidence. He, the Gustavson, Hoy i squatting by his engine with a cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth — they were all units of this same
smooth - functioning machine. And Graydon, too: the gambler’s cynical courage would be tested to the full before this night was done. For if Karen was to be brought off the beach it was Graydon who must take the dinghy in for her.
“Better get it straight now, what you’re to do,” he shouted. “The oil should give you enough of a slick for launching. I’ll hold the Gustavson head on. close in as I can take her. Go with the tide. It sets straight for the river mouth. There’s a mean rip over the bar, but once you get through that the reefs will give you a lee.”
“I’ll get through,” Graydon assured him. “My luck’s riding tonight, Padre.”
YOU’LL need more than luck,” Padre O’Bannion reproved him grimly. He said nothing more until, something better than an hour later, the night spoke to them with a new voice, a sullen, sustained roar that came down to them on the wind. Hearing that menacing voice, he gripped the wheel harder, letting the mission ship fall away by cautious degrees. In the open water they had been granted a respite of sorts. Now, within earshot of the surf that boomed on the Quonset reefs, even his wariest seamanship might not be good enough.
There was a bad moment coming. The waves that crashed on those reefs marshalled their forces far out. He must turn his craft almost on the edge of the; surf, turn and hold her while Graydon got the dinghy overside.
“Stand by,” he instructed. “But don’t make a move till 1 give the word.”
They tossed into the harbor on a long slant. The Gustavson changed her gait to an uneasy, twisting pitch and roll, but her engine thudded on faithfully. She was well between the harbor points now; the vast sighing of the wind-scourged spruce was an undertone to the beat of the surf. Padre O’Bannion held his course until, subtly, through feet on the deck and hands on the wheel, he sensed the almost muscular gathering of waters beneath them. This was the moment. With no conscious prayer he put the wheel over.
The Gustavson wallowed sickeningly, broadside-to in the trough. She rolled till Padre O’Bannion looked for her to capsize in the next second. Then her head swung round to the urging of the rudder, and she took the next sea quartering under her bow, thrusting into it until her tiny foredeck was submerged. The following wave took her in a clean end-to-end lift, and Padre O’Bannion breathed again.
“Tell Hoy to throttle down.’ he ordered Graydon.
Engine plodding, the Gustavson now lay head on to the seas, holding her own but making no forward way.
“Good enough. Get the lashings off the dinghy. Dump the oil overside and launch into the slick. Fast!”
Graydon’s hand was on his arm. The voice above him was steady, still with its faint note of amusement.
“Faith and works, Padre. You’re as good as your word you’ve provided both. Don’t wait too long. Give us all the time you can, then cut your losses and head for the clear, like a good gambler.”
“So you still think that, Lance? That I’m a gambling man?”
Graydon laughed. Misgrip tightened for a moment.
“If you weren’t, Padre, what would you be doing in this jack pot?”
Padre O’Bannion flung off his hand. “You’re wasting time. I’ll be here when you bring her back. The Lord go with you, boy.”
Continued on page 36
Continued from page 34
HE WAS alone. Not daring to take his eyes off the seas that marched endlessly down upon him out of the night, he refused to permit himself to wonder how Graydon was faring. The dinghy was a solid 14-footer, dorybuüt for rough water. Skilfully handled she might make it. There was nothing more for the Gustavson to do but hold her position and wait.
The affair had gone well so far— almost too well, Padre O’Bannion thought, staring ahead of him with eyes slitted against the wind. A vague uneasiness possessed him as the minutes dragged by. Nothing tangible, nothing that he could easily put into words. Just a sense of something lurking in the outer dark, moving in on them stealthily from the black heart of the night itself. Nerves! Impatiently he tried to put the feeling from him. He’d been keyed to a worse ordeal, and he was simply experiencing the inevitable etdown. Nevertheless his unease persisted, growing more acute as time passed.
They were falling back a little as the tide set more strongly toward the beach. He called to Hoy, and at once the engine quickened its pulse. Twice Padre O’Bannion risked a glance over his shoulder. Still nothing to be seen but the march of the waves, receding white-maned against the blackness.
Time was stretching toward eternity when a faint hail brought him half around. There was a darker smudge astern, glimpsed momentarily and lost on the instant. His heart gave a leap.
“Hoy, come up here! Be ready to lend a hand.”
The engineer-deacon crowded past his legs and scrambled aft. The dinghy was close in; Graydon put his back into a final stroke, and flung the painter. Hoy grunted as the line, uncoiling, struck across his neck. He snatched for it and got it. Mission ship and dinghy soared on the same crest. They hung level, long enough for Padre O’Bannion to see a shapeless bundle huddled in the bottom of the dinghy. In that instant Graydon jumped. He crashed on board, bowling Hoy off his feet. The engineer-deacon was up in a rubbery bounce, and both hauling, they brought the half-swamped dinghy alongside. Graydon leaned out and down, and, in one swift heave, brought Karen into the cockpit.
His shirt was ripped away, his hair was plastered across his forehead and he was breathing in great painful gasps. But he held Karen in his arms, and in his voice was something more intense than triumph.
“I told you my luck was riding, Padre. We’ve done it. She’s alive.”
A vast, rustling, seething sigh drowned his voice. Ice in his veins Padre O’Bannion whirled. The stroke withheld until now, the menace he had sensed in the heart of the gale, was upon them. It hulked frothing out of the night, a sea that had begun gathering weight and brute power halfway from Asia, its crest higher than the mast. The deck tilted under their feet, the Gustavson reared till it seemed she must topple end for end. Water crashed over them in a bruising, smothering mass. Faintly, as if from far under, Padre O’Bannion heard the crash of glass and splintering of wood as the front of the doghouse crumpled The king wave roared astern. He realized, as his head cleared, that a sensation familiar as the throbbing of his own blood was missing. The engine had quit.
Hoy darted below. He began to heave at the flywheel, spinning it again and again. No use—that mad sea had flooded the engine, strangled it and
drowned it. Padre O’Bannion still clung to the useless spokes, hearing the hungry voice of the surf grow louder as they drifted in by the stern.
Graydon was crouched over Karen as if to shield her with his body from the coming impact. He looked up, lips drawn back from his teeth.
“We’re raised out. The luck . . . just . . . wasn’t strong enough.”
“There’s something beyond luck,” Padre O’Bannion said.
He knew Hoy was still turning the flywheel; but the surf was so close that it seemed to be pounding inside his skull. Now that the end was plain he was very tired, drained of the will to fight further, or even to pray.
The engine choked out a watery cough. And at Hoy’s next heave it took hold, spitting smoke through the exhaust port, protesting asthmatically at every stroke of its pistons. Hoy was a master hand with an engine, but this, surely, was beyond even the engineerdeacon’s wizardry! Padre O’Bannion swallowed his heart, glorying to feel the Gustavson shove forward, hauling yard by yard away from the reefs.
PEERING ahead he grinned wryly in his beard, for all his drenched, bruised misery of body. The theological muddle into which Graydon had plunged him was resolving itself.
“Back at Hole-in-the-Rock,” he said, “you asked me if my faith was as strong as your hunch. Now I’ll ask you a question. Which is it, Lance— luck or a miracle? It’s for you to say.” The answer was slow in coming. When he did reply, Graydon’s voice was strange, warm and alive as he had never heard it before.
“You offer a pretty convincing argument, Padre. I’d intended going back to the brush, but now . . . well, you’ll have to «vait for your down payment on the cruiser until I knock over my first fat legal fee.”
“I don’t want it. You’ve given me what I wanted, Lance. Take your girl out of this—find dry blankets for her if you can. Hoy has hot soup in a thermos, provided it’s not smashed.” He laid a hand on Karen’s wet hair, smiling down at her, rejoicing in her feeble answering smile. Graydon carried her below.
The mission ship was running with throttle wide, drawing west away from Quonset. It seemed to Padre O’Bannion that the wind drove less bitingly against his face, and he had a feeling that the gale had done its worst, broken its heart in its last treacherous assault.
He fished under his sou’wester for his smokables. “There are some things you don’t understand, Lance,” he shouted. “Until it was demonstrated to you, you didn’t comprehend the nature of a miracle. And about the Gustavson—I’m a bachelor myself, as you know, but I’ve observed that even a happily married man will turn his head when a pretty girl goes by. I do sometimes think about Diesel cruisers, but the Gustavson is ship enough for me.”
His matches were soaked, the Butternut Hill in his tobacco pouch was a s°ggy pulp, but it was good, with mind now fully at peace, just to feel his pipestem with its familiar scorings between his teeth.
“How is she?” he called down to Graydon presently.
“Asleep now. She put away everything Hoy would let her eat.”
“I’ll marry you at Hole-in-the-Rock in the morning, before Johnny flies you out. One other thing, Lance. You called me a gambling man. Well, I’m not. The Lord was with us, boy, all the way. We were playing a sure thing!”