"A reg'lar vodeville skit," he exclaimed. "You're some actor, Tamada! But why didn't you say the island was down on their charts? They've even got a name for it. Hiyama."
"It means hot mountain," said Tamada. "The government names many islands."
"You can bet yore life they do," said Lund. "They're smart, but they overlooked that beach an' they've given us three weeks to cash in."
Lund himself had imbibed enough of the sake to make him loose of tongue, added to his elation at the success he had achieved. The gunboat was gone on its patrol, and he had a free hand. He half filled a glass with whisky. "Here's to luck," he cried. And spilled a part of the liquor on the floor before he set the glass to his lips.
"Here's to you, Doc," he added. "An' to Peggy!" He rolled eyes that were a trifle bloodshot at the girl.
"Our relations have gone back as usual, Mr. Lund," she said quietly. Lund glared at her half truculently.
"I'm agreeable," he said. "As a daughter, I disown you from now on, Miss Peggy. Here's to ye, jest the same!"
From the day following the arrival and departure of the Japanese gunboat, they attacked the little U-shaped beach that lay between two buttresses of the volcano and sloped sharply down to the sea. Twenty-one men, a lad and a woman, they went at the despoiling of it with a sort of obsession, led, rather than driven, by Lund, who worked among the rest of them like a Hercules.
From the beginning the tongue of shingle promised to be almost incredibly rich. Between these two spurs of mountain the tide had washed and flung the rich, free-flaking gold of a submarine vein, piling it up for unguessable years. Ebb tides had worked it in among the gravel, floods had beaten it down; the deeper they went to bedrock, the richer the pan.
The men's fancy estimate of a million dollars began speedily to seem small as the work progressed, systematically stripping the rocky floor of all its shingle, foot by foot, and cubic yard by cubic yard, cradling it in crude rockers, fluming it, vaporizing the amalgam of gold and mercury, and adding pound after pound of virgin gold to the sacks in the schooner's strong-room.
They worked at first in alternating shifts of four hours, by day and night, under the sun, the moon, the stars and the flaming aurora. The crust was drilled here and there where it had frozen into conglomerate, and exploded by dynamite, carefully placed so as not to dislodge the masses of ice that overhung the schooner. Fires to thaw out the ground were unavailable for sheer lack of fuel; there was no driftwood between these forestless shores. What fuel could be spared was conserved for use under the boilers that melted ice to provide water for the cradles and flumes, and help to cook the meals that Tamada prepared out-of-doors for the workers.
Buckets of coffee, stews, and thick soups of peas and lentils, masses of beans with plenty of fat pork, these were what they craved after hours of tremendous endeavor. Despite the cold, they sweated profusely at their tasks, stripping off over-garments as they picked and shoveled or crowbarred out the rich gravel.
Peggy Simms worked with the rest, assisting Tamada, helping to serve with Sandy. Deming, and Beale, the man with the damaged ribs, were given odd jobs that they could handle: feeding the fires, washing up, or assisting at the little forge where the drills were sharpened.
Through all of it Lund was supreme as working superintendent. There was no job that he could not, did not, handle better than any two of them, and, though Rainey could see a shrinkage, or a compression, of his bulk as day by day he called upon it for heroic service, he never seemed to tire.
"Got to keep 'em at it," he would say in the cabin. "No time to lose, an' the odds all against us, in a way. Barring Luck. That's what we got to count on, but we don't want them thinkin' that. If the weather don't break—an' break jest right—as soon as we've cleaned up, we're stung. Though I'll blast a way out of this shore ice, if it comes to the worst. I saved out some dynamite on purpose."
"We ought to have brought a steam-shovel along," said Rainey. He was hard as iron, but he had served a tough apprenticeship to labor, and his hands and nails, he fancied, would never get into shape again.
"Now you're talkin'," agreed Lund. "We c'ud have handled it in fine shape an' left the machine behind as junk or a souvenir for our Jap friends. We've got to cut out this four-hour shift. Too much time wasted changin'. Too many meals. We'll make it one long, steady shift of all hands long as we can stand up to it, an' all git reg'lar sleep. I'm needin' some myself."
Rainey knew that neither he nor Hansen got within two-thirds as much out of their shifts as when Lund was in command, though he had given them the pick of the men. It was not that the men malingered, they simply, neither of them, had the knack of keeping the work going at top speed and top effectiveness.
But, with Lund handling all of them as a unit, it was not long before the shovels began to scrape on the bare rock that underlay the gravel at tide edge, and work swiftly back to the end of the U. The outdoors kitchen had been established on top of the promontory between the schooner and the beach, a primitive arrangement of big pots slung from tripods over fires kindled on a flat area that was partly sheltered from the sea and the prevailing winds by outcrops of weathered lava.
At dawn the men trooped from the schooner to be fed and warmed, and then they flung themselves at their task. The more they got out the more there was in it for them. But Lund was their overlord, their better, and they knew it. Only Deming worked with one hand the handle of the forge bellows, or fed the fires, and sneered.
Lund stood a full head above the tallest of them, which was Rainey, and he was always in the thick of the work, directing, demanding the utmost, and setting example to back command. His eyes had bothered him, and he had made a pair of Arctic snow-glasses, mere circles of wood with slits in them. But under these the sweat gathered, and he discarded them, resorting to the primitive device of smearing soot all about his eyes. This, he said, gave him relief, but it made him a weird sort of Caliban in his labors.
On the fifteenth day, with the work better than half done, with more than a ton of actual gold in colors, that ranged from flour dust to nuggets, in the strong-room, the weather began to change. It misted continually, and Lund, rejoicing, prophesied the breaking up of the cold snap.
By the eighteenth day a regular Chinook was blowing, melting the sharper outlines of the icy crags and pinnacles, and providing streams of moisture that, in the nights now gradually growing longer, glazed every yard of rock with peril.
The men worked in a muck with their rubber sea-boots worn out by constant chafing, sweaters torn, the blades of their shovels reduced by the work demanded of them, the drills, shortened by steady sharpening, gone like the spare flesh of the laborers, who, at last, began to show signs of quicker and quicker exhaustion with occasional mutterings of discontent, while Lund, intent only upon cleaning off the rock as a dentist cleans a crumbling tooth, coaxed and cursed, blamed and praised and bullied, and did the actual work of three of them.
Dead with fatigue, filled with food, drowsy from the liberal grog allowance at the end of the day, the men slept in a torpor every night and showed less and less inclination to respond, though the end of their labors was almost in sight.
"What's the use, we got enough," was the comment beginning to be heard more and more frequently. "Lund, he's got more'n he can spend in a lifetime!"
Rainey could not trace these mutterings to Deming's instigation, but he suspected the hunter. There was no poker; all hands were too tired for play.
The ice in which the schooner was packed began to show signs of disintegration. The surface rotted by day and froze again by night and this destroyed its compactness. If the sun's arc above the horizon had been longer, its rays more vertical, the ice must infallibly have melted and freed the Karluk, for it was salt-water ice, and there were times when the thermometer stayed above its freezing point for two or three hours around noon.
Lund gave the holding floe scant attention. So long as the present weather kept up he declared that he could dynamite his way out inside of four hours.
The effect of all this on Rainey was a bit bewildering. He was judging life by new standards far apart from his own modes and, though he, too, worked with a will, and rejoiced in the freer effort of his muscles, the result comparing favorably with the best of the others—save Lund—he could not assimilate the general conditions.
They were too purely physical, he told himself; he missed his old habits, the reading and discussion of books, new and old, the good restaurants of San Francisco, and the chat he had been used to hold over their tables, companionable, witty, the exchange and stimulation of ideas.
He missed the theaters, the concerts, the passing show of well-dressed women, a hodge-podge of flesh-pots and mental uplift. He got to dreaming of these things nights.
Daytimes, he saw plainly that, in this environment at least, Lund was big, and the rest of them comparatively small. He believed that Lund could actually form a little kingdom of his own, as he had suggested, and make a success of it. But it would not be a kingdom that fostered the arts. It would cultivate the sciences, or at least encourage them and adopt results as applied to land development, and, if necessary, the defense of the kingdom.
Lund would be a figure in war and peace, peace of the practical sort, the kind of peace that went with plenty. He was no dreamer, but a utilitarian. Perhaps, after all, the world most needed such men just now.
As for Peggy Simms, she did not lose the polish of her culture, she was always feminine, even dainty at times, despite her work, that could not help but be coarse to a certain extent. She was full of vigor, she showed unexpected strength, she was a source of encouragement to the men as she waited on them. And also a source of undisguised admiration, all of which she shed as a duck sheds water. She was filled with abounding health, she moved with a free grace that held the eye and lingered in the mind. She was eminently a woman, and she also was big.
Rainey gained an increasing respect in her prowess, and a swift conversion to the equality of the sexes. There were times when he doubted his own equality. Had she met him on his own ground, in his own realm of what he considered vaguely as culture, he would have known a mastery that he now lacked. As it was, she averaged higher, and she had an attraction of sex that was compelling.
Here was a girl who would demand certain standards in the man with whom she would mate, not merely accompany through life. There were times when Rainey felt irresistibly the charm of her as a woman, longed for her in the powerful sex reactions that inevitably follow hard labor. There were times when he felt that she did not consider that he measured up to her gages, and he would strive to change the atmosphere, to dominate the situation in which Lund was the greater figure of the two men.
The rivalry that Lund had suggested between them as regards the girl, Rainey felt almost thrust upon him. There were moods which Peggy Simms turned to him for sharing, but there was scant time in the waking hours for love-making, or even its consideration.
Lund was centered on one achievement, the gold harvest. He ordered the girl with the rest; there were even times when he reprimanded her, while Rainey burned with the resentment she apparently did not share.
A little before dawn on the eighteenth day of the work upon the beach, Lund was out upon the floe examining the condition of the ice. He had declared that two days more of hard endeavor would complete their labors. What dirt remained at the end of that time they would transship. Rainey had joined the girl and Tamada at the cook fires.
The sky was bright with the aurora borealis that would pale before the sun. The men were not yet out of their bunks. They were bone and muscle tired, and Rainey doubted whether Lund, gaunt and lean himself, could get two days of top work out of them. Near the fires for the cooking, the melting of water and the forge, that were kept glowing all night, the tools were stacked, to help preserve their temper.
The aurora quivered in varying incandescence as Rainey watched Lund prodding at the floe ice with a steel bar. The girl was busy with the coffee, and Tamada was compounding two pots of stew and bubbling peas pudding for the breakfast, food for heat and muscle making.
Sandy appeared on deck and came swiftly over the side of the vessel and up the worn trail to the fires. He showed excitement, Rainey fancied, sure of it as the lad got within speaking distance.
"Where is Mr. Lund?" he panted.
Rainey pointed to Lund, now examining a crack that had opened up in the floe, a possible line of exit for the Karluk, later on. The men were beginning to show on the schooner. They, too, he noted somewhat idly, acted differently this morning. Usually they were sluggish until they had eaten, sleepy and indifferent until the coffee stimulated them, and Lund took up this stimulus and fanned it to a flame of work. This morning they walked differently, abnormally active.
"They're drunk, an' they're goin' on strike," said Sandy. "You know the big demijohn in the lazaretto?"
Rainey nodded. It was a two-handled affair holding five gallons, a reserve supply of strong rum from which Lund dispensed the grog allowances and stimulations for extra work toward the end of the shift, the night-caps and occasional rewards.
"They've swiped it," he said. "Put an empty one from the hold in its place. We got plenty without usin' that one for a while, an' I only happened to notice it this morning by chance. They've bin drinkin' all night, I reckon. They're ugly, Mr. Rainey. It's the crew this time. They got the booze. The hunters are sober. Deming ain't in on this. They did it on their own. I don't know how they got it. I didn't get it for 'em, sir. They must have worked plumb through the hold an' got to it that way."
"All right, Sandy. Thanks. Mr. Lund can handle them, I guess. He's coming now."
The men had got to the ice, hidden from Lund, who was walking to the Karluk on the opposite side of the vessel. The seamen were gesticulating freely; the sound of their voices came up to him where he stood, tinged with a new freedom of speech, rough, confident, menacing. As they climbed the trail their legs betrayed them and confirmed the boy's story. Behind them came the four hunters, with Hansen, walking apart, watching the sailors with a certain gravity that communicated itself despite the distance.
Lund showed at the far rail of the schooner with his bar. He glanced toward the men going to work, went below, and came up with a sweater. He had left the bar behind him in the cabin, where it was used for a stove poker.
The men filed by Rainey, their faces flushed and their eyes unusually bright. They seemed to share a prime joke that wanted to bubble up and over, yet held a restraint upon themselves that was eased by digs in one another's ribs, in laughs when one stumbled or hiccoughed.
But Hansen was stolid as ever, and the hunters had evidently not shared the stolen liquor. Only Deming's eyes roved over the group of men as they gathered round for their cups and pannikins of food. He seemed to be calculating what advantage he could gain out of this unexpected happening.
Peggy Simms, under cover of pouring the coffee, sweetened heavily with condensed milk, found time to speak to Rainey.
"They're all drunk," she said.
"Not all of them. Here comes Lund. He'll handle it."
Lund seemed still pondering the problem of the floe. At first he did not notice the condition of the sailors. Then he apparently ignored it. But, after they had eaten, he talked to all the men.
"Two more days of it, lads, and we're through. The beach is nigh cleared. We can git out of the floe to blue water easy enough, an' we'll git a good start on the patrol-ship. We'll go back with full pockets an' heavy ones. The shares'll be half as large again as we've figgered. I wouldn't wonder if they averaged sixteen or seventeen thousand dollars apiece."
Rainey had picked out a black-bearded Finn as the leader of the sailors in their debauch. The liquor seemed to have unchained in him a spirit of revolt that bordered on insolence. He stood with his bowed legs apart, mittened hands on hips, staring at Lund with a covert grin.
Next to Lund he was the biggest man aboard. With the rum giving an unusual coordination to his usually sluggish nervous system, he promised to be a source of trouble.
Rainey was surprised to see him shrug his shoulders and lead the way to the beach. Perhaps breakfast had sobered them, though the fumes of liquor still clung cloudily on the air.
Lund went down, with Rainey beside him, reporting Sandy.
"I'll work it out of 'em," said Lund. "That booze'll be an expensive luxury to 'em, paid for in hard labor."
They found the men ranged up in three groups. Deming and Beale, against custom, had gone down to the beach. They were supposed to help clean the food utensils, and aid Tamada after a meal, besides replenishing the fires.
They stood a little away from the hunters and Hansen and the sailors. The Finn, talking to his comrades in a low growl, was with a separate group.
There was an air of defiance manifest, a feeling of suspense in the tiny valley, backed by the frowning cone, ribbed by the two icy promontories. Lund surveyed them sharply.
"What in hell's the matter with you?" he barked. "Hansen, send up a man for the drills an' shovels. Yore work's laid out; hop to it!"
"We ain't goin' to work no more," said the Finn aggressively. "Not fo' no sich wage like you give."
"Oh, you ain't, ain't you?" mocked Lund. He was standing with Rainey in the middle of the space they had cleared of gravel, the seamen lower down the beach, nearer the sea, their ranks compacted. "Why, you booze-bitten, lousy hunky, what in hell do you want? You never saw twenty dollars in a lump you c'u'd call yore own for more'n ten minnits. You boardin'-house loafer an' the rest of you scum o' the seven seas, git yore shovels an' git to diggin', or I'll put you ashore in San Francisco flat broke, an' glad to leave the ship, at that. Jump!"
The Finn snarled, and the rest stood firm. Not one of them knew the real value of their promised share. Money represented only counters exchanged for lodging, food and drink enough to make them sodden before they had spent even their usual wages. Then they would wake to find the rest gone, and throw themselves upon the selfish bounty of a boarding-house keeper.
But they had seen the gold, they had handled it, and they were inflamed by a sense of what it ought to do for them. Perhaps half of them could not add a simple sum, could not grasp figures beyond a thousand, at most. And the sight of so much gold had made it, in a manner, cheap. It was there, a heap of it, and they wanted more of that shining heap than had been promised them.
"You talk big," said the Finn. "Look my hands." He showed palms calloused, split, swollen lumps of chilblained flesh worn down and stiffened. "I bin seaman, not goddam navvy."
Lund turned to the hunters.
"You in on this?" he asked. Deming and Beale moved off. Two of the others joined them. "Neutral?" sneered Lund. "I'll remember that." Hansen and the two remaining came over beside Lund and Rainey.
"Five of us," said Lund. "Five men against twelve fo'c'sle rats. I'll give you two minnits to start work."
"You talk big with yore gun in pocket," said the Finn. "Me good man as you enny day."
Lund's face turned dark with a burst of rage that exploded in voice and action.
"You think I need my gun, do ye, you pack of rats? Then try it on without it."
His hand slid to his holster inside his heavy coat. His arm swung, there was a streak of gleaming metal in the lifting sun-rays, flying over the heads of the seamen. It plunked in the free water beyond the ice.
"Come on," roared Lund, "or I'll rush you to the first bath you've had in five years." The Finn lowered his head, and charged; the rest followed their leader. The hot food had steadied their motive control to a certain extent, they were firmer on their feet, less vague of eye, but the crude alcohol still fumed in their brains. Without it they would never have answered the Finn's call to rebellion.
He had promised, and their drunken minds believed, that refusing in a mass to work would automatically halt things until they got their "rights." They had not expected an open fight. The spur of alcohol had thrust them over the edge, given them a swifter flow of their impoverished blood, a temporary confidence in their own prowess, a mock valor that answered Lund's contemptuous challenge.
Lund, thought Rainey, had done a foolhardy thing in tossing away his gun. It was magnificent, but it was not war. Pure bravado! But he had scant time for thinking. Lund tossed him a scrap of advice. "Keep movin'! Don't let 'em crowd you!" Then the fight was joined.
The girl leaned out from the promontory to watch the tourney. Tamada, impassive as ever, tended his fires. Sandy crept down to the beach, drawn despite his will, and shuffled in and out, irresolute, too weak to attempt to mix in, but excited, eager to help. Deming, Beale, and the two neutral hunters, stood to one side, waiting, perhaps, to see which way the fight went, reserves for the apparent victor.
The Finn, best and biggest of the sailors, rushed for Lund, his little eyes red with rage, crazy with the desire to make good his boast that he was as good as Lund. In his barbaric way he was somewhat of a dancer, and his legs were as lissome as his arms. He leaped, striking with fists and feet.
Lund met him with a fierce upper-cut, short-traveled, sent from the hip. His enormous hand, bunched to a knuckly lump of stone, knocked the Finn over, lifting him, before he fell with his nose driven in, its bone shattered, his lips broken like overripe fruit, and his discolored teeth knocked out.
He landed on his back, rolling over and over, to lie still, half stunned, while two more sprang for Lund.
Lund roared with surprise and pain as one caught his red beard and swung to it, smiting and kicking. He wrapped his left arm about the man, crushing him close up to him, and, as the other came, diving low, butting at his solar plexus, the giant gripped him by the collar, using his own impetus, and brought the two skulls together with a thud that left them stunned.
The two dropped from Lund's relaxed arms like sacks, and he stepped over them, alert, poised on the balls of his feet, letting out a shout of triumph, while he looked about him for his next adversary.
The bedrock on which they fought was slippery where ice had formed in the crevices. Two seamen tackled Hansen. He stopped the curses of one with a straight punch to his mouth, but the man clung to his arm, bearing it down. Hansen swung at the other, and the blow went over the shoulder as he dodged, but Hansen got him in chancery, and the three, staggering, swearing, sliding, went down at last together, with Hansen underneath, twisting one's neck to shut off his wind while he warded off the wild blows of the second. With a wild heave he got on all-fours, and then Lund, roaring like a bull as he came, tore off a seaman and flung him headlong.
"Pound him, Hansen!" he shouted, his eyes hard with purpose, shining like ice that reflects the sun, his nostrils wide, glorying in the fight.
The Finn had got himself together a bit, wiping the gouts of blood from his face and spitting out the snags of his broken teeth. He drew a knife from inside his shirt, a long, curving blade, and sidled, like a crab, toward Lund, murder in his piggy, bloodshot eyes, waiting for a chance to slip in and stab Lund in the back, calling to a comrade to help him.
"Come on," he called, "Olsen, wit' yore knife. Gut the swine!"
Another blade flashed out, and the pair advanced, crouching, knees and bodies bent. Lund backed warily toward the opposite cliff, looking for a loose rock fragment. He had forbidden knives to the sailors since the mutiny, and had forced a delivery, but these two had been hidden. A knife to the Finn was a natural accessory. Only his drunken frenzy had made him try to beat Lund at his own game.
One of the two hunters, lamed with a kick on the knee, howling with the pain, clinched savagely and bore the seaman down, battering his head against a knob of rock. The other friendly hunter had bashed and buffeted his opponent to submission. But Rainey was in hard case.
A seaman, half Mexican, flew at him like a wildcat. Rainey struck out, and his fists hit at the top of the breed's head without stopping him. Then he clinched.
The Mexican was slippery as an eel. He got his arms free, his hands shot up, and his thumbs sought the inner corners of Rainey's eyes. The sudden, burning anguish was maddening and he drove his clasped fists upward, wedging away the drilling fingers.
Two hands clawed at his shoulders from behind. Some one sprang fairly on his back. A knee thrust against his spine.
The agony left him helpless, the vertebrae seemed about to crack. Strength and will were shut off, and the world went black. And then one of the hunters catapulted into the struggle, and the four of them went down in a maddened frenzy of blows and stifled shouts.
The sailors fought like beasts, striving for blows barred by all codes of decency and fair play, intent to maim. Lund had got his shoulders against the rocks and stood with open hands, watching the two with their knives, who crept in, foot by foot, to make a finish.
Peggy Simms, a strand of her pale yellow hair whipped loose, flung it out of her eyes as she stood on the edge of the cliff, her lips apart, her breasts rising stormily, watching; her features changing with the tide of battle as it surged beneath her, punctuated with muffled shouts and wind-clipped oaths. She saw Lund at bay, and snatched out her pistol. But the distance was too great. She dared not trust her aim.
Sandy, dancing in and out, willing but helpless, bound by fear and lack of muscle, saw Deming, followed by Beale, stealing up the trail, unnoticed by the girl, who leaned far forward, watching the fight, her eyes on Lund and the two creeping closer with their knives, cautious but determined. Tamada stood farther back and could not see them.
The lad's wits, sharpened by his forecastle experience, surmised what Deming and Beale were after as they gained the promontory flat and ran toward the fires.
"Hey!" he shrilled. "Look out; they're after the tools!"
Deming's hand was stretched toward a shovel, its worn steel scoop sharp as a chisel. Beale was a few feet behind him. They were going to toss the shovels and drills down to the seamen.
Tamada turned. His face did not change, but his eyes gleamed as he thrust a dipper in the steaming remnants of the pea-soup and flung the thick blistering mass fair in Deming's face. At the same moment the girl's pistol cracked with a stab of red flame. Beale dropped, shot in the neck, close to the collarbone, twisting like a scotched snake, rolling down the trail to the beach again.
Deming, howling like a scorched devil, clawed with one hand at the sticky mass that masked him as he ran blind, wild with pain. He tripped, clutched, and lost his hold, slid on a plane of icy lava, smooth as glass, struck a buttress that sent him off at a tangent down the face of the cliff, bounding from impact with an outthrust elbow of the rock, whirling into space, into the icy turmoil of the waves, flooding into the inlet.
Peggy Simms fled down the trail with a steel drill in either hand, straight across the beach toward Lund. The Finn turned on her with a snarl and a side-swipe of his knife, but she leaped aside, dodged the other slow-foot, and thrust a drill at Lund, who grasped it with a cry of exultation, swinging it over his head as if it had been a bamboo. Hansen had shaken off his men, and came leaping in for the second drill.
The knife fell tinkling on the frozen rock as Lund smashed the wrist of the Finn. The girl's gun made the second would-be stabber throw up his hands while Hansen snatched his weapon, flung it over the farther cliff, and knocked the seaman to the ground before he joined Lund, charging the rest, who fled before the sight of them and the threat of the bars of steel.
Lund laughed loud, and stopped striking, using the drill as a goad, driving them into a huddled horde, like leaderless sheep, knee-deep, thigh-deep, into the water, where they stopped and begged for mercy while Hansen turned to put a finish to the separate struggles.
It ended as swiftly as it had begun. One hunter could barely stand for his kicked knee, Rainey's back was strained and stiffening, Lund had lost a handful of his beard, and Hansen's cheek was laid open.
On the other side the casualties were more severe. Deming was drowned, his body flung up by the tide, rolling in the swash. Beale was coughing blood, though not dangerously wounded. The Finn was crying over his broken wrist, all the fight out of him. Ribs were sore where not splintered from the drills, and the two bumped by Lund sat up with sorely aching heads. The courage inspired by the liquor was all gone; oozed, beaten out of them. They were cowed, demoralized, whipped.
Lund took swift inventory, lining them up as they came timorously out of the water or straggled against the cliff at his order. Tamada had come down from the fires. Peggy had told of his share, and Sandy's timely shout. Lund nodded at him in a friendly manner.
"You're a white man, Tamada," he said. "You, too, Sandy. I'll not forget it. Rainey, round up these derelicts an' help Tamada fix 'em up. I'll settle with 'em later. Hansen, put the rest of 'em to work, an' keep 'em to it! Do you hear? They got to do the work of the whole bunch."
They went willingly enough, limping, nursing their bruises, while Hansen, his stolidity momentarily vanished in the rush of the fight and not yet regained, exhibited an unusual vocabulary as he bossed them. Lund turned to the two hunters, who had stood apart.
"Wal, you yellow-bellied neutrals," he said, his voice cold and his eyes hard. "Thought I might lose, and hoped so, didn't you? Pick up that skunk Beale an' tote him aboard. Then come back an' go to work. You'll git yore shares, but you'll not git what's comin' to those who stood by. Now git out of my sight. You can bury That when you come back." He nodded at the sodden corpse of Deming, flung up on the grit. "You can take yore pay as grave-diggers out of what you owe him at poker. He ain't goin' to collect this trip."
Rainey, lame and sore, helped Tamada patch up the wounded, turning the hunters' quarters into a sick bay, using the table for operation. Beale was the worst off, but Tamada pronounced him not vitally damaged. After he had finished with them he insisted upon Rainey's lying, face down, on the table, stripped to the waist, while he rubbed him with oil and then kneaded him. Once he gave a sudden, twisting wrench, and Rainey saw a blur of stars as something snapped into place with a click.
"I think you soon all right, now," said Tamada.
"You and Miss Simms turned the tide," said Rainey. "If they'd got those tools first they'd have finished us in short order."
"Fools!" said Tamada. "Suppose they kill Lund, how they get away? No one to navigate. Presently the gunboat would find them. I think Mr. Lund will maybe trust me now," he said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"Mr. Lund think in the back of his head I arrange for that gunboat to come. He can not understand how they know the schooner at island. He think to come jus' this time too much curious, I think."
"It was a bit of a coincidence."
Tamada shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"I think Japanese government know all that goes on in North Polar region," he said. "There is wireless station on Wrangell Island. We pass by that pretty close."
Rainey chewed that information as he put on his clothes, wondering if they had seen the last of the gunboat. They would have to pass south through Bering Strait. It would be easy to overhaul them, halt them, search the schooner, confiscate the gold. They were not out of trouble yet.
When he went into the cabin to replace his torn coat—he had hardly a button intact above the waist, from jacket to undershirt—he found the girl there with Lund. Apparently, they had just come in. Peggy Simms, with face aglow with the excitement that had not subsided, was proffering Lund her pistol.
"Keep it," he said. "You may need it. I've got mine."
"But you threw it into the water. I saw you."
"No," He laughed. "That wasn't my gun. They thought it was. I wanted to bring the thing to grips. But I wasn't fool enough to chuck away my gun. That was a wrench I was usin' this mornin' to fix the cabin stove—looks jest like an ottermatic. I stuck it in my inside pocket. I was ha'f a mind to shoot when they showed their knives, but I didn't want to use my gun on that mess of hash."
He stood tall and broad above her, looking down at the face that was raised to his. Rainey, unnoticed as yet, saw her eyes bright with admiration.
"You are a wonderful fighter," she said softly.
"Wonderful? What about you? A man's woman! You saved the day. Comin' to me with them drills. An' we licked 'em. We. God!"
He swept her up into his arms, lifting her in his big hands, making no more of her than if she had been a feather pillow, up till her face was on a level with his, pressing her close, while in swift, indignant rage she fought back at him, striking futilely while he held her, kissed her, and set her down as Rainey sprang forward.
Lund seemed utterly unconscious of the girl's revulsion.
"Comin' to me with the drills!" he said. "We licked 'em. You an' me together. My woman!"
Peggy Simms had leaped back, her eyes blazing. Lund came for her, his face lit with the desire of her, arms outspread, hands open. Before Rainey could fling himself between them, the girl had snatched the little pistol that Lund had set on the table and fired point-blank. She seemed to have missed, though Lund halted, his mouth agape, astounded.
"You big bully!" said Rainey. Now that the time had come he found that he was not afraid of Lund, of his gun, of his strength. "Play fair, do you? Then show it! You asked me once why I didn't make love to her. I told you. But you, you foul-minded bully! All you think of is your big body, to take what it wants.
"Peggy. Will you marry me? I can protect you from this hulking brute. If it's to be a show-down between you and me," he flared at Lund, still gazing as if stupefied, "let it come now. Peggy?"
The girl, tears on her cheeks that were born from the sobs of anger that had shaken her, swung on him.
"You?" she said, and Rainey wilted under the scorn in her voice. "Marry you?" She began to laugh hysterically, trying to check herself.
"I didn't mean you enny harm," said Lund slowly, addressing Peggy. "Why, I wouldn't harm you, gal. You're my woman. You come to me. I was jest—jest sorter swept off my bearin's. Why," he turned to Rainey, his voice down-pitching to a growl of angry contempt, "you pen-shovin' whippersnapper, I c'ud break you in ha'f with one hand. You ain't her breed. But"—his voice changed again—"if it's a show-down, all right.
"If I was to fight you, over her, I'd kill you. D'ye think I don't respect a good gal? D'ye think I don't know how to love a gal right? She's my mate. Not yours. But it's up to you, Peggy Simms. I didn't mean to insult you. An' if you want him—why, it's up to you to choose between the two of us."
She went by Rainey as if he had not existed, straight into Lund's arms, her face radiant, upturned.
"It's you I love, Jim Lund," she said. "A man. My man."
As her arms went round his neck she gave a little cry.
"I wounded you," she said, and the tender concern of her struck Rainey to the quick. "Quick, let me see."
"Wounded, hell!" laughed Lund. "D'ye think that popgun of yores c'ud stop me? The pellet's somewheres in my shoulder. Let it bide. By God, yo're my woman, after all. Lund's Luck!"
Rainey went up on deck with that ringing in his ears. His humiliation wore off swiftly as he crossed back toward the beach. By the time he crossed the promontory he even felt relieved at the outcome. He was not in love with her. He had known that when he intervened. He had not even told her so. His chivalry had spoken—not his heart. And his thoughts strayed back to California. The other girl, Diana though she was, would never, in almost one breath, have shot and kissed the man she loved. A lingering vision of Peggy Simms' beauty as she had gone to Lund remained and faded.
"Lund's right," he told himself. "She's not of my breed."
Lund glanced at the geyser of spray where the shell from the pursuing gunboat had fallen short, and then at the bank of mist ahead. They were in the narrows of Bering Strait, between the Cape of Charles and Prince Edward's Point, the gold aboard, a full wind in their sails, making eleven knots to the gunboat's fifteen.
It was mid-afternoon, three hours since they had seen smoke to the north and astern of them. Either the patrol had found them gone from the island, freed by blasting from the floe, and followed on the trail full speed, or the wireless from some Japanese station on the Tchukchis coast had told of their homing flight.
The great curtain of fog was a mile ahead. The last shell had fallen two hundred yards short. Five minutes more would settle it. Hansen had the wheel. Lund stood by the taffrail, his arm about Peggy Simms. He shook a fist at the gunboat, vomiting black smoke from her funnel, foam about her bows.
"We'll beat 'em yet," he cried.
The next shell, with more elevation, whined parallel with them, sped ahead, and smashed into the waves.
"Hold yore course, Hansen! No time to zigzag. Got to chance it. Damn it, they know how to shoot!"
A missile had gone plump through main and foresails, leaving round holes to mark the score. Another fairly struck the main topmast, and some splinters came rattling down, while the remnants of the top-sail flapped amid writhing ends of halyard and sheet.
They entered the beginning of the fog, curling wisps of it reached out, twining over the bowsprint and headsails, enveloping the foremast, swallowing the schooner as a hurtling shell crashed into the stern. The next instant the mist had sheltered them. Lund released the girl and jumped to the wheel.
"Now then," he shouted, "we'll fool 'em!" He gripped the spokes, and the men ran to the sheets at command while the Karluk shot off at right angles to her previous course, skirting the fog that blanketed the wind but yet allowed sufficient breeze to filter through to give them headway, gliding like a ghost on the new tack to the east.
Rainey, tense from the explosion of the shell, jumped below at last and came back exultant.
"It was a dud, Lund!" he shouted. "Or else they didn't want to blow us up on account of the gold. But they've wrecked the cabin. The fog's coming in through the hole they made. Tamada's galley's gone. It's raked the schooner!"
"So long's it's above the water line, to hell with it! We'll make out. Listen to the fools. They've gone in after us, straight on."
The booming of the gunboat's forward battery sounded aft of them, dulled by the fog—growing fainter.
"Lund's luck! We've dodged 'em!"
"They'll be waiting for us at the passes," said Rainey. "They've got the speed on us."
"Let 'em wait. To blazes with the Aleutians! Ready again there for a tack! Sou'-east now. We'll work through this till we git to the wind ag'in. It's all blue water to the Seward Peninsula. We're bound for Nome."
"For Nome?" asked Peggy Simms.
"Nome, Peggy! An American port. The nearest harbor. An' the nearest preacher!"