"If that's the way you feel about it, you won't get rid of me so easy," declared the cook, malevolence in his single eye.
Mayo noticed, with some surprise, that after the two had exchanged a few words there was silence between Bradish and the girl. The New-Yorker was pale and trembling, and his jaw still sagged, and he threw glances to right and left as the surges galloped under them. He was plainly and wholly occupied with his fears.
When day came at last without rain, but with heavy skies, in which masses of vapor dragged, Mayo began eager search of the sea. He had no way of determining their whereabouts; he hoped they were far enough off-shore to be in the track of traffic. However, he could see no sail, no encouraging trail of smoke. But after a time he did behold something which was not encouraging. He stood up and balanced himself and gazed westward, in the direction in which they were drifting; every now and then a lifting wave enabled him to command a wide expanse of the sea.
He saw a white ribbon of foam that stretched its way north and south into the obscurity of the mists. He did not report this finding at once. He looked at his companions and pondered.
"I think you have something to say to me," suggested the girl.
"I suppose I ought to say it. I've been wondering just how it ought to be said. It's not pleasant news."
"I am prepared to hear anything, Captain Mayo. Nothing matters a great deal just now."
"We are being driven on to the coast. I don't know whether it's the Delaware or the New Jersey coast. It doesn't make much difference. The breakers are just as bad in one place as in the other."
"Why don't you anchor this boat? Are you going to let it go ashore and be wrecked?" asked Bradish, with anger that was childish.
"The anchor seems to have been overlooked when we started on this little excursion. As I remember it, there was some hurry and bustle," returned Mayo, dryly.
"Why didn't you remember it? You got us into this scrape. You slammed and bossed everybody around. You didn't give anybody else a chance to think. You call yourself a sailor! You're a devil of a sailor to come off without an anchor."
"I suppose so," admitted Mayo.
"And there wasn't any sense, in coming off in this little boat. We ought to have stayed on the schooner."
"Ralph!" protested the girl. "Have you completely lost your mind? Don't you know that the schooner sank almost the minute we left it?"
"Mr. Bradish's mind was very much occupied at the time," said Captain Mayo.
"I don't believe the schooner sank. What does a girl know about such things? That fellow got scared, that's the trouble. There isn't any sense in leaving a big boat in a storm. We would have been taken off before this. We would have been all right. This is what comes of letting a fool boss you around when he is scared," he raved.
"You are the fool!" she cried, with passion. "Captain Mayo saved us."
"Saved us from what? Here we are going into the breakers—and he says so—and there's no anchor on here. He took everything out of my hands. Now why doesn't he do something?"
"Don't pay any attention to him," she pleaded.
"We are going to be drowned! You can't deny it, can you? We're going to die!" He pulled a trembling hand from between his knees, where he had held both hands pinched in order to steady them. He shook his fist at Mayo. "Own up, now. We're going to die, aren't we?"
"I think it's right to tell the truth at this stage," said Mayo, in steady tones. "We're not children. Yonder is a beach with sand-reefs and breakers, and when we strike the sand this boat will go over and over and we shall be tossed out. The waves will throw us up and haul us back like a cat playing with mice. And we stand about the same chance as mice."
"And that's the best you can do for us—and you call yourself a sailor!" whined Bradish.
"I'm only a poor chap who has done his best as it came to his hand to do," said the young man, seeking the girl's eyes with his.
She gazed at him for a moment and then put both hands to her face and began to sob.
"It's a hard thing to face, but we'd better understand the truth and be as brave as we can," said Mayo, gently.
"For myself I ain't a mite surprised," averred the cook. "I had my hunch! I was resigned. But my plans was interfered with. I wanted to go down in good, deep, green, clean water like a sailor ought to. And now I'm going to get mauled into the sand and have a painful death."
"Shut up!" barked Mayo.
The girl was trembling, and he feared collapse.
Bradish began to blubber. "I'm not prepared to die," he protested.
Mayo studied his passenger for some time, wrinkling his brows. "Bradish, listen to me a moment!"
The New-Yorker gave him as much attention as terror and grief permitted.
"There isn't much we can do just now to fix up our general earthly affairs. But we may as well clean the slate between us two. That will help our consciences a little. I haven't any quarrel with you any more. We won't be mushy about it. But let's cross it off."
"It's all over," mourned Bradish. "So what's the use of bearing grudges?"
"I suppose it's true that the court has indicted me for manslaughter. Bradish, tell me, man to man, whether I've got to go into those breakers with that on my conscience!"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do! You know whether those men of the schooner Warren were drowned by any criminal mistake of mine or not!"
Bradish did not speak.
"You wouldn't have said as much to Captain Downs if you hadn't known something," insisted the victim of the plot.
"It was only what Burkett let drop when he came after some money. I suppose he thought it was safe to talk to me. But what's the good of my giving you guesswork? I don't know anything definite. I don't understand sailor matters."
"Bradish, what Burkett said—was it something about the compass—about putting a job over on me by monkeying with the compass?"
"It was something like that." His tone exhibited indifference; it was evident that he was more occupied with his terror than with his confession.
"Didn't Burkett say something about a magnet?"
"He got off some kind of a joke about Fogg in the pilot-house and fog outside—but that the Fogg inside did the business. And he said something about Fogg's iron wishbone."
"So that was the way it was done—and done by the general manager of the line!" cried Mayo. "The general manager himself! It's no wonder I have smashed that suspicion between the eyes every time it bobbed up! I suspected—but I didn't dare to suspect! Is that some of your high finance, Bradish?"
"No, it isn't," declared the New-Yorker, with heat. "It's an understrapper like Fogg going ahead and producing results, so he calls it. The big men never bother with the details."
"The details! Taking away from me all I have worked for—my reputation as a master, my papers, my standing—my liberty. By the gods, I'm going to live! I'm going through those breakers! I'll face that gang like a man who has fought his way back from hell," raged the victim.
"This—this was none of my father's business! It could not have been," expostulated Miss Marston.
"Your father never knows anything about the details of Fogg's operations," declared Bradish.
"He ought to know," insisted the maddened scapegoat. "He gives off his orders, doesn't he? He sits in the middle of the web. What if he did know how Fogg was operating?"
"Probably wouldn't stand for it! But he doesn't know. And the Angel Gabriel himself wouldn't get a chance to tell him!" declared the clerk.
"A put-up job, then, is it—and all called high finance!" jeered Mayo.
"High finance isn't to blame for tricks the field-workers put out so that they can earn their money quick and easy. What's the good of pestering me with questions at this awful time? I'm going to die! I'm going to die!" he wailed.
Miss Marston slid from the seat to her knees, in order that she might be able to reach her hand to Mayo. "Will you let this handclasp tell you all I feel about it—all your trouble, all your brave work in this terrible time? I am so frightened, Captain Mayo! But I'm going to keep my eyes on you—and I'll be ashamed to show you how frightened I am."
He returned the fervent clasp of her fingers with gentle pressure and reassuring smile. "Honestly, I feel too ugly to die just now. Let's keep on hoping."
But when he stood up and beheld the white mountains of water between their little boat and the shore, and realized what would happen when they were in that savage tumult, with the undertow dragging and the surges lashing, he felt no hope within himself.
From the appearance of the coast he could not determine their probable location. The land was barren and sandy. There seemed to be no inlet. As far as he could see the line of frothing white was unbroken. The sea foamed across broad shallows, where no boat could possibly remain upright and no human being could hope to live.
Nevertheless, he remained standing and peered under his hand, resolved to be alert till the last, determined to grasp any opportunity.
All at once he beheld certain black lines in perpendicular silhouette against the foam. At first he was not certain just what they could be, and he observed them narrowly as the boat tossed on its way.
At last their identity was revealed. They were weir-stakes. The weir itself was evidently dismantled. Such stakes as remained were set some distance from one another, like fence-posts located irregularly.
He made hasty observation of bearings as the boat drifted, and was certain that the sea would carry them down past the stakes. How near they would pass depended on the vagary of the waves and the tide. He realized that three men, even if they were able seamen, could do little in the way of rowing or guiding the longboat in the welter of that sea, now surging madly over the shoals. He knew that there was not much water under the keel, for the ocean was turbid with swirling sand, and the waves were more mountainous, heaped high by the friction of the water on the bottom. Every now and then the crest of a roller flaunted a banner of bursting spray, showing breakers near at hand.
Mayo hurried to the bow of the boat and pulled free a long stretch of cable. He made a bowline slip-knot, opened a noose as large as he could handle, coiled the rest of the cable carefully, and poised himself on a thwart.
"What now?" asked the cook.
"No matter," returned Mayo. His project was such a gamble that he did not care to canvass it in advance.
The nearer they drove to the stakes the more unattainable those objects seemed. They projected high above the water.
The cook perceived them and got up on his knees and squinted. "Huh!" he sniffed. "You'll never make it. It can't be done!"
In his fierce anxiety Mayo heaved his noose too soon, and it fell short. He dragged in the cable with all his quickness and strength and threw the noose again. The rope hit the stake three-quarters of the way up and fell into the sea.
"It needs a cowboy for that work," muttered the cook.
Mayo recovered his noose and poised himself again.
In the shallows where they were the boat which bore him became a veritable bucking bronco. It was flung high, it swooped down into the hollows. He made a desperate try for the next stake in line. The noose caught, and he snubbed quickly. The top of the stake came away with a dull crack of rotten wood when the next wave lifted the boat.
Mayo pulled in his rope hand over hand with frantic haste. He was obliged to free the broken stake from the noose and pull his extemporized lasso into position again. He made a wider noose. His failure had taught a point or two. He waited till the boat was on the top of a wave. He curbed his desperate impatience, set his teeth, and whirled the noose about his head in a widening circle. Then he cast just as the boat began to drop. The rope encircled the stake, dropped to the water, and he paid out all his free cable so that a good length of the heavy rope might lie in the water and form a makeshift bridle. When he snubbed carefully the noose drew close around the stake, and the latter held. The waves which rode under them were terrific, and Mayo's heart came into his mouth every time a tug and shock indicated that the rope had come taut.
However, after five minutes of anxious waiting, kneeling in the bow, his eyes on the cable, he found his courage rising and his hopes glowing.
"Does it mean—" gasped the girl, when he turned and looked at her.
"I don't know just what it will mean in the end, Miss Marston," he said, with emotion. "But it's a reprieve while that rope holds."
Bradish sat clutching the gunwale with both hands, staring over his shoulder at the waters frothing and roaring on the shore. The girl glanced at him occasionally with a certain wonderment in her expression. It seemed to Mayo that she was trying to assure herself that Bradish was some person whom she knew. But she did not appear to have much success in making him seem real. She spoke to him once or twice in an undertone, but he did not answer. Then she turned her back on him.
Suddenly Mayo leaped up and shouted.
A man was running along the sandy crest of a low hill near the beach. He disappeared in a little structure that was no larger than a sentry-box.
"There's a coast-guard patrol from the life-saving station. There must be one somewhere along here!"
The man rushed out and flourished his arms.
"He has telephoned," explained Mayo. "Those are the boys! There's hope for us!"
There was more than hope—there was rescue after some hours of dreary and anxious waiting.
The life-boat came frothing down the sea from the distant inlet, and they were lifted on board by strong arms.
And then Alma Marston gave Mayo the strangest look he had ever received from a woman's eyes. But her lips grew white and her eyes closed, and she lapsed into unconsciousness while he folded a blanket about her.
"You must have had quite a job of it, managing a woman through this scrape," suggested the captain of the crew.
"It's just the other way," declared Mayo. "I'm giving her credit for saving the whole of us."
"I might find it a little hard to make you understand, captain. Let it stand as I have said it."
XXV ~ A GIRL AND HER DEBT OF HONOR
Says she, "You lime-juice sailor, Now see me home you may." But when we reached her cottage door She unto me did say— And a-way, you santee, My dear Annie! O you New York girls, Can't you dance the polka! —Walking Down the Broadway.
Mayo was promptly informed that Captain Downs and the crew of the Alden were safe.
"He caught our flare, got his motor to working, and made the inlet by a lucky stab," explained the coast-station captain. "But he didn't reckon he'd ever see you folks again. How did it happen he didn't tell me there was a woman aboard?"
"You'll have to ask him."
"Who is she?"
"You'll have to ask him that, too. I'm only a sailor."
The captain looked him over with considerable suspicion: His shirt was torn and his white skin was revealed. The drenching by rain and spray had played havoc with his disguise; most of the coloring had been washed away.
"Have you got anything special to say about yourself?"
The captain turned his back on his men and leaned close to Mayo. "They have had your picture in the paper this week," he said. "You're the captain they are wanting in that Montana case. They're after you. I've got to report on this thing, you understand!"
"Very well, captain."
"But I reckon we'll talk it all over after we get to the station," said the master, kindly. "There may be something in it that I don't understand."
"There's considerable in it that I don't understand myself, just now, but I'm going to find out," declared Captain Mayo.
They placed Ahpa Marston in the care of the station captain's wife as soon as they were safely on shore in the inlet. Fortunate chance had sent the woman to the station that day on a visit to her husband.
Captain Downs, fed and warmed, watched the new arrivals eat beside the kitchen stove and listened to the story Mayo had for him.
The bedraggled cat lapped milk, protected from the resentful jealousy of the station's regular feline attache by the one-eyed cook.
And afterward, closeted with Captain Downs and the station captain, Mayo went over his case.
"I must say you seem to be pretty hard and fast ashore in mighty sloppy water," commented the coastguard captain. "It isn't my especial business—but what do you propose to do?"
"Go to New York and take what they're going to hand me, I suppose. I ought to have stayed there and faced the music. I have put myself in bad by running away. But I was rattled."
"The best of us get rattled," said the host, consolingly. "I'm not a policeman, sheriff, or detective, mate. I'll report this case as Captain Downs and so many souls saved from the schooner Alden. You'd better trot along up to the city and face 'em as a man should. I'll rig you out in some of my clothes. Your old friend, Wass, meant well by rushing you away, but I've always found that in a man's fight you can't do much unless you're close enough to t'other fellow to hit him when he reaches for you."
A half-hour later, made presentable in the coast-guard captain's liberty suit, Mayo walked through the kitchen. Bradish and the cook were still in front of the stove.
The captain's wife, standing in a door which admitted to an inner room, put up a finger to signal the young man and then nodded her head in invitation. "The young lady wants to see you, sir," she informed him in a whisper, when he stepped to her side. "Go in!" She closed the door behind him and remained in the kitchen.
He stood in the middle of the room and gazed at the girl for some time, and neither of them spoke. She was swathed in blankets and was huddled in a big chair; her face was wan and her eyes showed her weariness. But her voice was firm and earnest when she addressed him.
"Captain Mayo, what I am going to say to you will sound very strange. Tell me that you'll listen to me as you would listen to a man."
"I'm afraid—" he stammered.
"It's too bad that man and woman can seldom meet on the plane where man and man meet. But I don't want to be considered a girl just now. I'm one human being, and you're another, and I owe something to you which must be paid, or I shall be disgraced by a debt which will worry me all my life." She put out her hands and knotted the fingers together in appeal. "Understand me—help me!"
He was ill at ease. He feared with all his soul to meet the one great subject.
"When we thought we were going to die I told you it seemed as if I had lived a life in a few hours—that I did not seem like the same person as I looked into my thoughts. Captain Mayo, that is true. It is more apparent to me now when I have had time to search my soul. Oh, I am not the Alma Marston who has been spoiled and indulged—a fool leaping here and there with every impulse—watching a girl in my set do a silly thing and then doing a sillier thing in order to astonish her. That has been our life in the city. I never knew what it meant to be a mere human being, near death. You know you saved me from that death!"
"I only did what a man ought to do, Miss Marston."
"Perhaps. But you did it, that's the point. There are other men—" She hesitated. "I have had a talk with Mr. Bradish," she told him. "It was a mistake. You saved me from that mistake. You did it in the cabin of the schooner. He has told me. It was better for me than saving my life."
"But because a man isn't a sailor—isn't used to danger—" he expostulated.
"That is not it. I say I have just had a talk with Mr. Bradish! I have found out exactly what he is. I did not find it out when I danced with him. But now that I have come near to dying with him I have found him out." The red banners in her cheeks signaled both shame and indignation. "A coward will show all his nature before he gets himself in hand again, and Mr. Bradish has shown me that he is willing to ruin and disgrace me in order to make profit for himself. And there is no more to be said about him!" She paused.
"Captain Mayo, I know what idea you must have of me—of a girl who would do what I have done! But you don't have half the scorn for me I have for myself—for the girl I was. But I have my self-respect now! I respect the woman that I am at this moment after that experience! Perhaps you don't understand. I do! I'm glad I have that self-respect. I shall face what is ahead of me. I shall do right from now on." She spoke quickly and passionately, and he wanted to say something, but his sailor tongue halted. "I am not going to bring up a certain matter—not now! It's too sacred. I am too miserably ashamed! Again, Captain Mayo, I say that I want to stand with you as man to man! I want to render service for what you have done for me. You have lost everything out of your life that you value. I want you to have it back. Will you listen to me now?"
"Yes, Miss Marston."
"You go to my father with a letter from me. I do not believe he knows what kind of methods have been practised by his understrappers, but he can find out. You tell him that he must find out—that he must make them confess. You tell him that this is a man's fight, and that you are fighting back with all the strength that you can command. You tell him that you have me hidden, and that I cannot get away—as my own letter will tell him. You tell him that he must make a fair exchange with you—give you back what is yours before he can have what is his."
Mayo walked backward limply, feeling for the wall with his hands behind him, and leaned against it.
"You are single-handed—it's a big game they play up in the city when they are after money—and you must take what cards are offered," she insisted, displaying the shrewdness of the Marston nature.
"You mean to say that I'm going to your father as if I were holding you for ransom?" he gasped.
"Something like that," she returned, eagerly. "The only way you'll get what you want—and get it quickly—is by a good bluff. I have had some good samples of your courage, Captain Mayo. You can do it beautifully."
"But I'm not going to do it!"
"I say you are!"
"Not by a—" His feelings were carrying him away. He was forgetting that these dealings were with an impulsive girl. His anger was mounting. She was putting him on the plane of a blackleg.
"Go ahead and talk as strongly as you like, Captain Mayo. It will make it seem like man's business between us."
"Those tricks may be all right in Wall Street, but they don't do for me. And you've got a pretty poor opinion of me if you think I'll do it."
"Don't be quixotic," she protested, impatiently. "We are living in up-to-date times, Captain Mayo. Some of those underlings have played a nasty trick on you. They must be exposed."
"This is a girl's crazy notion!"
"Captain Mayo, is this the way you help me pay my debt?"
"You don't owe me anything."
"And now you pay me an insult! Are my honor as a girl and my life worth nothing? You have saved both."
"I don't know how to talk to you. I haven't had any experience in talking with women. I simply say that I'm not going to your father in any such manner. Certainly not!"
"Don't you realize what I have offered you?" she pleaded. "You are throwing my sacrifice in my face. As the case stands now, I can hurry off to the home of some girl friend and make up a little story of a foolish lark, and my father will never know what has been happening. He expects me to do a lot of silly things."
"That's your business—and his," he returned, dryly.
"Captain Mayo, I have been trying to show you that I am fit to be considered something besides a silly girl. I wanted you to know that I have a sense of obligation. The plan may seem like a girl's romantic notion. But it isn't. It's bold, and your case heeds boldness. I was trying to show you that I'm not a coward. I was going to confess to my father what I have done and start on the level with him. You throw it all in my face—you insult my plan by calling it crazy."
"It is," he insisted, doggedly. "And I'm in bad enough as it is!"
"Oh, you're afraid, then?"
He frowned. Her sneer seemed gratuitous injury.
He did not understand that variety of feminine guile which seeks to goad to action one who refuses to be led.
"I admire boldness in a man when his case is desperate and he is trying to save himself. I have lived among men who are bold in going after what they want."
"I have had a little experience with that kind of land pirates, and I don't like the system."
"I shall not make any unnecessary sacrifices," she de-clared, tartly, but there were tears in her eyes. "I did what I could to help you when you were trying to save me. Why are you so ungenerous as to refuse to help me now?"
"It's taking advantage of you—of your position."
"But I offer it—I beg of you to do it."
"I will not do it."
"You absolutely refuse?"
"Yes, Miss Marston."
"Then I shall leave you to your own fate, Captain Mayo. You don't expect me to go to my father with the story, do you?"
"I shall go ahead now and protect myself the best I can. I am sure that Captain Downs will keep my secret. I shall forget that I ever sailed on that schooner. I suppose you will black yourself up and run away again!"
"I am going to New York."
"To be put in jail?"
"You make me very angry. After you have shown that you can fight, just when you ought to fight the hardest you slink bade to be whipped."
"Yes, Miss Marston, if you care to put it that way."
Perhaps each expected that the other would break the wall of reserve at this moment of parting. He hesitated a moment—an awkward instant—then he bowed and left the room.
Captain Downs walked with Mayo for a distance across the sand-dunes when the latter started to make his way to the nearest railroad station. The captain intended to remain at the inlet tmtil a representative of the Alden's owners arrived.
They left Bradish still huddled behind the stove in the kitchen.
"Unless my eyes have gone back on me, Captain Mayo, my notion is that the dude is wasting his time hanging around that girl any more," suggested Captain Downs. "She has had him out on the marine railway of love, has made proper survey, and has decided that she would hate to sail the sea of matrimony with him. Don't you think that's so?"
"I think you're a good judge of what you see, Captain Downs."
"I reckon that you and I as gents and master mariners are going to keep mum about her being aboard the Alden?"
"The coast-guard crew don't know who she is, and they can't find out. So she can go home and mind her business from this time out. 'Most every woman does one infernal fool thing in her life—and then is all right ever after. But now a word on some subject that's sensible! What are you going to do?"
"Stick my head into the noose. It's about the only thing I can do."
"But you'll talk up to 'em, of course?"
"I'll play what few cards I hold as best I know, sir. The most I can hope for is to make 'em drop that manslaughter case. Perhaps I can say enough so that they'll be afraid to bring me to trial. As to getting my papers back, I'm afraid that's out of the question. I'll have to start life over in something else."
"Mayo, why don't you go to the captain's office?" He promptly answered the young man's glance of inquiry. "Julius Marston himself is the supreme boss of that steamship-consolidation business. Bradish gave all that part away, telling about those checks; though, of course, we all knew about Marston before. It is probably likely that Marston gives true courses to his understrappers. If they take fisherman's cuts between buoys in order to get there quick, I'll bet he doesn't know about it. Go to him and tell him, man to man, what has happened to you."
"There are two reasons why I shall probably never see Mr. Marston," returned Mayo, grimly. "First, I'll be arrested before I can get across New York to his office; second, I'll never get farther than the outer office. He's guarded like the Czar of Russia, so they tell me."
"Does his girl know anything about your case?"
"I blabbed it to her—like a fool—when we were in the boat. Why is it that when a man is drunk or excited or in trouble, he'll blow the whole story of his life to a woman?" growled Mayo.
"I've thought that over some, myself," admitted Captain Downs. "Especially on occasions when I've come to and realized what I've let out. I suppose it's this—more or less: A man don't tell his troubles to another man, for he knows that the other man is usually in'ardly glad of it because any friend is in trouble. But a woman's sympathy is like a flaxseed poultice—it soothes the ache and draws at the same time."
Mayo trudged on in silence, kicking the sand.
"Seems to me the smallest thing that girl could have done was to offer to get you a hearing with her old man. It was some chore you did for her, mate!"
"I had to save myself. A few more in the party didn't matter."
"These society girls think of themselves first, of course! I don't suppose you give a hoot for my advice, Captain Mayo, but I'm talking to you in the best spirit in the world."
"I know you are, Captain Downs," declared the young man, his sullenness departing. "I didn't mean to show bristles to you! I'll try to see Marston. It 'll be a hard stunt. But I'm in the mood to try anything. By gad! if they lug me to jail, I'll go kicking!"
"That's the spirit, boy. And if you can get in a few kicks where Julius Marston can see 'em they may count. He's the boss! I don't think I'll go any farther with you. This is too hard footing for an old waddler like me. Good luck!"
They shook hands and turned their backs on each other with sailor repression in the matter of the emotions.
The young man went on his way, wondering in numbed despair how he could have left Alma Marston with merely a curt word of farewell.
Mayo lurked that evening in the purlieus of Jersey City, and entered the metropolis after midnight on a ferryboat which had few passengers and afforded him a dark corner where he was alone. He found lodgings in humble quarters on the East Side.
In the morning he nerved himself to the ordeal of appearing in the streets. His belief in his own innocence made his suffering greater as he waited for the clap of a heavy hand on his shoulder and the summons of an officer's voice. He knew that the eyes of Uncle Sam are sharp and his reach a long one. He had firm belief in the almost uncanny vigilance of government officers. He was rather surprised to find himself at last in the outer office of Marston & Waller.
He sat down on a bench and waited for a time in order to regain his self-possession. He wanted to control features and voice before accosting one of the guardians of the magnate. But the espionage of the attendants did not permit loiterers to remain long in that place without explanation. A man tiptoed to him and asked his name and his business.
"My name doesn't matter," said Mayo. "But I have important business with Mr. Marston. If you will tell him that the business is most important—that it is something he ought to know, and that—"
"You haven't any appointment, then?"
"Do you think for one moment that you can get in to see Mr. Marston without giving your name and explaining beforehand the nature of your business?"
"I hoped so, for it is important."
"What is it?"
"It's private—it's something for Mr. Marston."
"Impossible!" was the man's curt rejoinder. He went back to his post. In a few moments he returned to Mayo. "You mustn't remain here. You cannot see Mr. Marston."
"Won't you take in a message from me? I'll explain—"
"Explain to me. That's what I'm here for."
Telling that cold-blooded person that this visitor was the broken master of the Montana was out of the question. To mention the case of the Montana to this watchdog was dangerous. But Mayo dreaded to go back to the street again.
"I'll stay here a little while and perhaps I can—" he began.
"If you stay here without explaining your business I'll have you escorted down to the street by an officer, my friend."
Mayo rose and hurried out.
"An officer!" Even in his despairing and innocent quest of a hearing he was threatened with arrest! He sneaked back to his lodgings and hid himself in the squalid apartment and nursed the misery of his soul.
That night Mayo sat till late, toiling over a letter addressed to Julius Marston.
He despatched it by messenger at an early hour, and mustered his courage in the middle of the forenoon and followed in person. He assumed a boldness he did not feel in his quaking heart when he approached the guardian of the outer office.
"Will you ask Mr. Marston if he will see the man who sent him a letter by messenger this morning?" "What letter? Signed by what name?" "He will understand what letter I refer to." "He will, will he?" The attendant gave this applicant sharp scrutiny. The coast-guard captain's liberty garments were not impressive, nor did they fit very well. Mayo displayed the embarrassment of the man who knew he was hunted. "Do you think Mr. Marston receives only one letter by messenger in a morning? Look here, my man, you were in here yesterday, and I look on you as a suspicious character. You cannot see Mr. Marston on any such excuse. Get out of that door inside of one minute or I'll send in a police call!"
And once more Mayo fled from the danger which threatened him. He bought a stock of newspapers at a sidewalk news-stand; his hours of loneliness in his little room the day before had tortured him mentally. He sat himself down and read them. The news that the Vose line had gone into the steamship combination was interesting and significant. Evidently the Montana's lay-up had discouraged the mass of stockholders. He had time to kill and thoughts to stifle; he went on reading scrupulously, lingering over matters in which he had no interest, striving to occupy his mind and drive the bitter memories and his fears away from him. Never in his life before had he read the society tattle in the newspapers. However, dragging along the columns, he found a paragraph on which he dwelt for a long time. It stated that Miss Marston of Fifth Avenue had returned by motor from a house-party in the Catskills, accompanied by Miss Lana Vanadistine, who would be a house guest of Miss Marston's for a few days.
That bit of news was significant. She had established her alibi; she had reinstated herself and had turned a smooth front to the world.
Mayo was certain in his soul that he knew her kind. His illusions were departing. Now that her tragic experience was behind her, now that she was back among her own, now that the fervor of romance was cool, she was thanking God, so he told himself, that she had not sacrificed herself for anybody. He was honestly glad that she was at home, glad of the hint which the paragraph gave—that her secret was still her own, so far as family and the social world were concerned.
That night Mayo took further counsel with himself. In the morning his final decision was made. He would endeavor once more to see Julius Maxston. He determined that he would march into the outer office, boldly announce his name, assert that he was there to expose a crime, and tell them that if Mr. Marston refused to hear him he should tell what he knew to the public through the newspapers; then he would ask them to send for the police, if the door of Marston's office remained closed to him. He would call attention to himself and to his case by all the uproar he could make. When he went to jail he would go with plenty of folks looking on. Let Marston and his fellow-financiers see how they liked that!
It was a desperate and a crude plan, but Mayo was not a diplomat—he was a sailor.
He marched forth on his errand with his chin up and resolve flaming within him.
Other men, prosperous-looking and rotund men, rode up in the elevator with him and went into Marston & Waller's office ahead of him, for he had modestly stepped to one side to allow them to pass.
He heard some talk of a "board meeting." It was plain that Mr. Marston was to be occupied for a time. This was not a favorable moment in which to project himself upon the attention of the financier; he needed a clear field. Therefore he tramped up and down the corridor of the office building, watching the elevator door, waiting to see the rotund gentlemen go on their way. And with attention thus focused he saw Miss Alma Marston arrive.
She waited until the elevator had passed on, and then she came directly to him. Her expression did not reveal her mood except to hint that she was self-possessed.
"I am not especially surprised to find you here," she told him. "I believe you said to Captain Downs—so he informed me—that you were going to try to see my father. And men who try to see my father, without proper introduction, usually kick their heels outside his office for some days."
There was a bit of hauteur in her voice. She preserved much of the acerbity which had marked her demeanor when they had said good-by to each other. He would not acknowledge to himself that he hoped she would meet him on another plane; he meekly accepted her attitude as the proper one. He was a sailor, and she was the daughter of Julius Marston.
"Do you blame me for being suspicious in regard to what you intend to say to my father?" she demanded. "I tell you frankly that I came here looking for you. We must settle our affair."
"I am trying to get word with him about my own business—simply my own business, Miss Marston."
"But as to me! What are you going to say to him about me? You remember I told you that I intended to protect myself," she declared, with some insolence.
"I thought you had a better opinion of me," he protested. "Miss Marston, as far as I am concerned, you never were on that schooner. I know nothing about you. I do not even know you. Do you understand?"
He started away hastily. "Don't stay here. Don't speak to me. Somebody may see you."
"'Come back here!"
"I demand an explicit promise from you that if you are able to talk with my father you will never mention my name to him or try to take advantage of the dreadful mistake I made."
"I promise, on my honor," he said, straightening.
"Thank you, sir."
"And now that I have promised," he added, red in his tanned cheeks, "I want to say to you, Miss Marston, that you have insulted me gratuitously. I suppose I'm not much in the way of a gentleman as you meet them in society. I'm only a sailor. But I'm neither a tattler nor a blackmailer. I know the square thing to do where a woman is concerned, and I would have done it without being put under a pledge." He bowed and walked away.
She gazed after him, a queer sparkle in her eyes. "We'll see about you, you big child!" she murmured.
She entered the waiting-room of the Marston & Waller suite, and was informed that her father was busy with a board meeting.
"But it's merely a bit of routine business. It will soon be over, Miss Marston—if you will be so good as to wait."
After a time the gentlemen filed out, but she waited on.
"Tell my father that I'm here and will be in presently," she commanded the guardian.
Before the messenger returned Mayo came in, rather apprehensively. He tried to avoid her, but she met him face to face and accosted him with spirit.
"Now that I have put you on your honor, I'm not afraid to have you talk your business over with my father. Come with me. I will take you to him. Then we will call accounts square between us."
"Very well," he consented. "After what I have been through here, I feel that one service matches the other." Mayo followed her and came into The Presence.
Julius Marston was alone, intrenched behind his desk, on his throne of business; the dark back of the chair, towering over his head, set off in contrast his gray garb and his cold face; to Mayo, who halted respectfully just inside the door, he appeared a sort of bas-relief against that background—something insensate, without ears to listen or heart to bestow compassion.
The girl, hurrying to him, engaged his attention until she had seated herself on the arm of his chair. Then he saw Mayo, recognized him, and tried to rise, but she pushed him back, urging him with eager appeal.
"You must listen to me, father! It is serious! It is important!"
He groped for the row of desk buttons, but she held his hand from them.
Captain Mayo strode forward, determined to speak for himself, rendered bold by the courageous sacrifice the girl was making.
"Not a word! Not a word! The supreme impudence of it!" Marston repeated the last phrase several times with increasing violence. He pushed his daughter off the arm of the chair and struggled up. Only heroic measures could save that situation—and the girl knew her father! She forced herself between him and his desk.
"You'd better listen!" she warned him, hysterically. "A few days ago I ran away to be married!"
He stood there, stricken motionless, and she put her hands against his breast and pressed him back into his chair.
"But this is not the man, father!"
Marston had been gathering his voice for wild invective, but that last statement took away all his power of speech.
"I warned you that you'd better listen!"
In that moment she dominated the situation as completely as if she stood between the two men with a lighted bomb in her hand.
Mayo was overwhelmed even more completely than the financier. He realized that her extortion of a pledge from him had been subterfuge; her triumphant eyes flashed complete information on that point. Both anger and bewilderment made him incapable of any sane attempt to press his case with Marston at that time. He turned and started for the door.
"Stop that man, father. You'll be sorry if you do not! He must stay!"
"Come back here!" shouted Marston.
Mayo looked behind.
The magnate stood with finger on the push-button. "Come back, I say!"
"I protest. This is none of my business. I am here for something else than to listen to your daughter's private affairs."
"You come back!" commanded the father in low tones of menace, "or I'll have you held for the United States marshals the minute you step foot outside that door."
Raging within himself at the tactics of this incomprehensible girl, Captain Mayo walked slowly to the desk; it occurred to him that it was as hard to get out of Julius Marston's office as it was to get in.
"I would never have come in here if I had dreamed that your daughter would tell you what she has. I am in a false position. I insist that you allow me to leave."
"You'll leave when I get to the bottom of this thing! Now, Alma, what new craziness is all this?"
"I am not resenting the word you apply to it," she replied, facing him resolutely. "I did it—and I don't know why I did it!"
"I ran away. I did it because the girls dared me to do it. I promised a man I would marry him."
"This man, eh?"
"No. I have told you this is not the man."
"Well, who, then?" Incredulity was mingled with her father's wrath.
"One of your trusted young gentlemen. Mr. Ralph Bradish."
"Where did you meet him?"
"At the dances."
"Not at our house?"
"I do not know how you are so sure of that, father," she returned, a touch of rather wistful reproach in her tones. "You have left me alone in that house ever since mother went away. But it was not at our house—it was in the public ball-rooms."
"Hell set to music!" he rasped. "I ought to have realized that you are still an infant!"
"No; I am a woman to-day. I lived a whole lifetime in one night on the ocean. I know you have reason to be ashamed of me. But I'll never give you cause for shame again. Now what are you going to say to this man who saved my life—who did more than that? He saved me from myself!"
Marston narrowed his eyes and scrutinized Mayo. "I don't understand this thing yet! The story doesn't ring right." He turned on his daughter. "How did this man save your life? Be quick and be short!"
He interrupted her in the middle of her eager recital. He had been scowling while she talked, staring into vacancy in meditation.
"A story-book tale!" he declared, impatiently, and yet there was a shade of insincerity in that impatience. "I would be bitterly ashamed of you, Alma, if you had run away as you are trying to make me believe. But—"
"Don't you believe me?"
"Silence! But this trumped-up story is too transparent. You are still acting the fool in the matter of this person, here. Now see here, my man, you are here to-day on the Montana affair. Isn't that so?"
"It is, sir."
"I was sure of it. How did you dare to sneak into that job after I had discharged you from the Olenia?"
"There was no sneaking to it! I was hired by Mr. Fogg and I—"
"You may be sure that I did not know you were on board the Montana. But I cannot attend to all the details of my business. You realize, don't you, that you are a fugitive from justice?"
"I am a scapegoat for the dirty dogs who operate for you!"
"That's enough! I am investigating this matter now? Sit down in that chair!"
Mayo obeyed, lulled by the assurance.
"Alma, you go home!"
"I am going to stay here, father, until Captain Mayo—"
"I have listened to all the falsehoods I propose to hear!" This rejoinder astounded his two listeners. "I see into this matter clear to the bottom. I am amazed that you should think such a silly yarn would deceive me for a moment." He had pressed one of the buttons. To the man who opened the door he said: "Tell Mr. Bradish that I want to see him here at once. He is in the office, isn't he?"
"Yes, sir! I will inform him."
Mayo and the girl exchanged eloquent looks; they had been leaving Mr. Bradish out of their calculations; they had discarded him from their thoughts; that he had had the effrontery to reappear in the Marston & Waller offices was news indeed.
Marston took the girl by the arm and led her toward a door. "I tell you to go home!" he cried, angrily, stopping her protests. "No, you are going by this side door. I do not believe one word you have told me. It's all a transparent attempt to continue your folly. I'll know how to look after you from now on!" He closed the door behind her and locked it.
"I swear this is all true, sir," pleaded Mayo. "I'm not trying to deceive you through your daughter. I did not understand what she intended to say. I want my rights as a man who has been tricked, abused—"
Mr. Bradish appeared, bowing respectfully. He was once more part of the smooth machinery of the Marston & Waller offices. He was pale, calm, cool, subdued master of his emotions as the employees of Julius Marston were trained to be.
"Did you ever see this man before? Of course you never did!" prompted the financier.
"I never saw him before, sir."
"Certainly not! What have you to say to the ridiculous, nonsensical story that you attempted to elope with my daughter?"
Not by a flicker of the eyelids did the imperturbable maker of million-dollar checks show confusion.
"If such a lie needs denial from me I most firmly do deny it, sir."
"You cheap renegade!" roared the captain.
"That will do, Mr. Bradish!"
The clerk obeyed the wave of his master's hand and retired quickly.
"Mr. Marston," raved Mayo, "I'm fighting for all that's worth while to me in life. My reputation as a master mariner, my chance to make a living in my work. I was a fool on board your yacht! With all my soul I am penitent. I will-"
"Enough! Don't you dare to discuss my own daughter with me!"
"I don't intend to, sir. I'm going to believe that you don't know what your understrappers have done to me. You only see results. But find out what is being done in your name, Mr. Marston. Some day it will be bad for you if you don't stop 'em."
"Is that a threat?"
"It's only my appeal for justice. My God, sir—"
"There's justice waiting for you."
"Then send out for your marshals. Let them drag me into court! Your man Bradigh's mouth is closed now, but it has been open. I know what has been done to me. Let them put me on the stand. You don't dare to have me stand up in court and tell what I know."
"Do you suppose I am running the Federal courts?"
"You'd better find out whether you have power or not. There are men in this world who will believe an honest man's true story!"
"Good day!" said Mr. Marston, significantly.
Mayo hesitated, gazed into the impassive countenance of the magnate, and then conviction of the uselessness of argument overwhelmed him. He started for the door.
"Certain sensible things can be done," Marston called after him. "You'd better get out of New York. If you know of a place to hide you'd better get into it."
Mayo did not reply. He strode out through the offices, descended to the street, and went on his way.
He did not notice that an automobile pursued him through the roaring traffic of the streets, halting ahead of him when, he had turned into one of the quieter thoroughfares.
The car was close to the curb, and Alma Marston put out her hand and signaled to him. "He gave-you no hope-nothing?"
"I have waited. I thought of asking you to come for a talk with me."
He shook his head.
"Perhaps it's better as it is! There isn't very much to be said-not now!" She leaned over the side of the tonneau and the clatter of traffic enabled her to talk without taking the eavesdropping chauffeur into their confidence. "I am not worthy of your thoughts or your confidence after this, Boyd. What I was yesterday I am not to-day; I have told you that. No, do not say anything! I know, now, that I was only playing with love. I cannot name what I feel for you now; I have insulted the word 'love' too much in the past. I'm not going to say anything about it. Was it any excuse for me that you had sunk a ship, were going to prison for killing men, so the papers hinted? No, it was not! But I allowed myself to make it an excuse for folly."
"You don't know what love is," he declared. In the agony of his degradation he had no relish for softer sentiments. But he did not dare to look up at her.
"I did not know! But perhaps some day I can show you that I do now know," she replied, humbly. "That will be the day when I can give you the proofs against the men who have tried to ruin you. I am inside the camp of your enemies, Boyd, and I'll give you those proofs—even against my own father, if he is guilty. That's all! Let's wait. But while you are working I hope it's going to give you a bit of courage to know that I am working for you!" She patted his cheek. "Go on!" she called to her driver. The car jerked forward and was hidden among the chariots roaring down through the modern Babylon.
Without power for self-analysis, without being able to penetrate the inner recesses of his own soul in that crisis, he trudged on.
A little later, almost unconscious of volition in the matter, he found himself at a steamboat office buying a ticket. He was going back to the obscurity of Maquoit. But he was fully conscious that he was not obeying Julius Marston's injunction to go and hide. A deeper sentiment was drawing him. He knew where there existed simple faith in him and affection for him, and he craved that solace. There were humble folks in Maquoit who would welcome him.
"I'll go back—I'll go home," he said. Once he would have smiled at the thought that he would ever call the Hue and Cry colony "home."
XXVI ~ THE FANGS OF OLD RAZEE
A dollar a day is a Hoosier's pay, Lowlands, lowlands, a-way, my John! Yes, a dollar a day is a Hoosier's pay, My dollar and a half a day. —Old Pumping Song.
Before leaving New York Mayo made inquiries at offices of shipping brokers and trailed Captain Zoradus Wass to his lair in the loafers' room of a towboat office. Their conference was a gloomy one; neither had any comfort for the other. Mayo was laconic in his recital of events: he said that he had run away—and had come back. Of Marston and Marston's daughter he made no mention.
"I have been to see that fat whelp of a Fogg," stated the old master mariner. "I ain't afraid of him. I had a good excuse; I said I wanted a job. I didn't let on to him that I advised you to slip your cable, but I might have curried favor with him by saying so. He seemed to be pretty well satisfied because you had skipped."
"Captain Wass, that's the main thing I've come to talk over with you. Here's my ticket back home. But I feel that I ought to walk up to the United States marshal's office and surrender myself. And I want to ask you about the prospects of my getting bail. Can you help me?"
"I reckon if I saw you behind bars I'd do my best to get you out, son. But you steer away from here on a straight tack and mind your own business! When the United States wants you they'll come and get you—you needn't worry!"
"But I do worry, sir! I am dodging about the streets. I expect to feel a hand on my shoulder every moment. I can't endure the strain of the thing! I don't want anybody to think I'm a sneak."
"As near's I can find out by nosing around a little that indictment is a secret one—even if it really was returned. And I'm half inclined to think there wasn't any indictment! Perhaps those officers were only sent out to get you and hold you as a witness. Fogg has been doing most of the talking about there being an indictment. However it is, if they don't want you just yet I wouldn't go up to a cell door, son, and holler and pound and ask to be let in. Law has quite a way of giving a man what he hollers for. You go away and let me do the peeking and listening for you around these parts. I'm collecting a little line of stuff on this water-front. Haven't much else to do, these days!"
"I reckon my first hunch was the right one, sir!' I'll go along home. If you hear anybody with a badge on inquiring for me tell him I'm fishing on the Ethel and May."
"That's a mean job for you, son. But I guess I'd better not say anything about it, seeing what I have shanghaied you into."
"It has not been your fault or mine, what has happened, sir. I am not whining!"
"By gad! I know you ain't! But get ready to growl when the right time comes, and keep your teeth filed! When it's our turn to bite we'll make a bulldog grip of it!" He emphasized the vigor of that grip in his farewell handshake.
But Mayo did not reflect with much enthusiasm on Captain Wass's metaphorical summons to combat.
Returning to Maquoit, the young man decided that he was more like a beaten dog slinking back with canine anxiety to nurse his wounds in secret.
His experiences had been too dreadful and too many in the last few days to be separated and assimilated. He had been like a man stunned by a fall—paralyzed by a blow. Now the agonizing tingle of memory and despair made his thoughts an exquisite torture. He tried to put Alma Marston out of those thoughts. He did not dare to try to find a place for her in the economy of his affairs. However, she and he had been down to the gates of death together, and he realized that the experience had had its effect on her nature; he believed that it had developed her character as well. Insistently the memory of her parting words was with him, and he knew, in spite of his brutal and furious efforts to condemn her, that love was not dead and that hope still lived.
He swung aboard the Ethel and May one afternoon, after he had waited patiently for her arrival with her fare.
"I have come back to fish with you, Captain Candage, until my troubles are straightened out—if they ever are."
Captain Candage was silent, controlling some visible emotions.
"I have come back to be with folks who won't talk too much about those troubles," he added, gloomily.
"Exactly," agreed the skipper. "Nothing is ever gained by stirring up trouble after it has been well cooked. Swing the pot back over the fire, I say, and let it simmer till it cools off of itself. I thought you would come back."
"Well, I knew they had taken away your papers. Furthermore, Polly has been saying that you would come back."
"And why did she think so?" asked Mayo, in milder tones.
"She didn't say why," admitted Captain Candage. "Maybe women see into things deeper than men do."
"It seems like coming home—coming home when a man is sick and tired of everything in the world, sir."
"Reckon my Polly had something like that in mind. She dropped a few hints that she hoped you'd come and get rested up from your troubles."
"And she has gone back to her work, I suppose?"
"No, she is still on her job at Maquoit, sir—calls it her real job. She isn't a quitter, Polly isn't. She says they need her."
"Like the song says, 'The flowers need the sunshine and the roses need the dew,' that's how they need her," averred Oakum Otie. "Though them Hue and Cry women and children can't be said to be much like roses and geraniums! But they're more like it than they ever was before, since Miss Polly has taken hold of 'em. It's wonderful what a good girl can do when she tries, Captain Mayo!"
Resuming his life on the fishing-schooner was like slipping on a pair of old shoes, and Mayo was grateful for that New England stoicism which had greeted him in such matter-of-fact fashion.
"What you want to tell me is all right and what you don't want to tell me is still better," stated Captain Candage. "Because when you ain't talking about it you ain't stirring it!"
So, in that fashion, he came back into the humble life of Maquoit. There had been no awkwardness in his meeting with Captain Candage; it had been man to man, and they understood how to dispense with words. But Mayo looked forward to his meeting with Polly Candage without feeling that equanimity which the father had inspired.
He felt an almost overmastering desire to confide to her his troubles of the heart. But he knew that he would not be able to do that. His little temple had been so cruelly profaned. His humiliation was too great.
He was conscious that some other reason was operating to hold him back from explaining to her; and because he did not understand just what it was he was ill at ease when he did come face to face with her. He was grateful for one circumstance—their first meeting was in the old fish-house at Maquoit, under the hundred curious eyes of the colony. He had rowed ashore in his dory and went to seek her in the midst of her activities. She put out both her hands and greeted him with frank pleasure and seemed to understand his constraint, to anticipate his own thoughts, to respect his reticence.
"I'm glad you have come back to wait till all your troubles are settled. The most consoling friends are those who know and who sympathize and who keep still! Now come with me and listen to the children and see what the women are doing. You will be proud and glad because you spoke up for them that day when we went over to Hue and Cry."
After that there was no constraint between them; they kept their own affairs hidden from each other. The autumn passed and the long, chill evenings came, and when the fishing-schooner was in port at Maquoit, between trips, Mayo and the girl spent comfortable hours together, playing at cards under the widow's red-shaded lamp and under the widow's approving eyes.
"No, they ain't courting, either," she informed the pestering neighbors. "Do you suppose I have been twice married and twice a widder not to know courting when I see it? It's 'Boyd this' and 'Polly that,' to be sure, the whole continyal time; but she is engaged to somebody else, because she has been wearing an engagement ring that has come to her since she has been here. She showed it to me, and she showed it to him! And as for him, everybody 'longcoast knows how dead gone on him that millionaire girl is! Now everybody mind their own business!"
As the days passed the widow's counsel seemed to apply to all the affairs of Maquoit; folks went at their business in good earnest.
The winter wind nipped, the wharf piles were sheathed with ice, and only hardy men were abroad on the waterfront of the coast city, but the crew of the Ethel and May were unusually cheerful that day.
The schooner had stayed on Cashes Banks and had ridden out a gale that had driven other fishermen to shelter. Then in the first lull she had sent her dories over the rail and had put down her trawls for a set, and a rousing set it was! It seemed as if the cod, hake, and haddock had been waiting for that gale to stop so that they might hunt for baited hooks and have a feast. Nearly every ganging-line had its prize. The bow pulley in each dory fairly chuckled with delight as the trawl line was pulled over it. Every three feet was a ganging-line. Each dory strung out a mile of trawl. And when the dories returned to the schooner and dumped the catch into the hold the little craft fairly wallowed under her load.
They caught the market bare; the gale had blown for nearly a week. Fish-houses bid spiritedly against one another, and when at last a trade was made and the schooner's crew began to pitchfork the fish into the winch buckets, and the buckets rose creaking out over the rail, the two captains went into the office of the fish-house to figure some mighty gratifying profits.
"Nothing like luck in the fishing game, gents," observed the manager.
"Well, grit counts for something," stated Captain Candage. "We've got a crew that ain't afraid of a little weather."
"If that's the case, there may be something for you off-coast about now that's better than the fishing game."
"What's that?" asked the old skipper.
"Wrecking. Seen the morning papers?"
"We've had something to do besides fool with papers."
"That new Bee line steamer, Conomo, has been piled up on Razee Reef."
"One time—this last time—she hugged too close!" snapped the young man. The others bent an inquiring gaze on him. But he did not explain. His thoughts were busy with the events of that day when the Bee line steamer started his troubles with Marston.
"Paper says she's considered a total loss," went on the manager. "If that's so, and the underwriters give her up, there ought to be some fine picking for men with grit. The board of survey went out to her on a tug this morning." He gave them their check, and they went aboard their schooner.
The affair of the Conomo was not mentioned between them until they were at sea on their way to the eastward again. The piece of news did not interest Mayo at first, except as a marine disaster that had no bearing on his own affairs.
Captain Candage was stumping the quarter-deck, puffing at his short, black pipe. "I don'no' as you feel anyways as I do about it, Captain Mayo, but it ain't going to be no great outset to us if we make a leg out to Razee and see what's going on there," he suggested.
"I have no objections," returned Mayo. "But the way things are managed nowadays in case of wrecks, I don't see much prospect of our getting in on the thing in any way."
"Mebbe not; but in case they're going to abandon her there'll be some grabbing, and we might as well grab with the rest of 'em."
"If they can't get her off some junk concern will gamble on her. But we'll make an excursion of it to see the sights, sir. We can afford a little trip after what we pulled down to-day."
There was no hope of reaching the wreck before nightfall, so they jogged comfortably in the light westerly that had succeeded the gale.
Captain Candage took the first watch after the second dog-watch, and at two bells, or nine o'clock, in the evening, Mayo awoke and heard him give orders to "pinch her." He heard the sails flap, and knew that the men were shortening in readiness to lay to. He slipped on his outer clothing and went on deck.
"We're here," stated the old skipper, "and it looks like some other moskeeters had got here ahead of us, ready to stick in their little bills when they get a chance."
It was a clear night, brilliant with stars. In contrast with the twinkling and pure lights of the heavens, there were dim reds and greens and yellow-white lights on the surface of the ocean. These lights rocked and oscillated and tossed as the giant surges swept past.
"I make out half a dozen sail—little fellers—and two tugs," said Captain Candage. "But get your eye on the main squeeze!"
Mayo looked in the direction of the extended mittened hand.
"Some iceberg, hey?" commented the skipper.
A short half-mile away, a veritable ghost ship, loomed the wrecked Conomo. Spray had beaten over her and had congealed until she seemed like a mass of ice that had been molded into the shape of a ship. She gleamed, a spectral figure, under the starry heavens.
A single red light, a baleful blob of color, showed from her main rigging.
They surveyed her for some time.
"I should say she was spoke for," was Captain Candage's opinion. "It's high tide now, and a spring tide at that, and them tugs is just loafing out there—ain't making a move to start her. We can tell more about the prospect in the morning."
Then the two captains turned in, for the Ethel and May lay to docilely with a single helmsman at the wheel.
The crisp light of morning did not reveal anything especially new or important. There were half a dozen small schooners, fishermen, loafing under shortened canvas in the vicinity of the wreck. One of the tugs departed shoreward after a time.
Mayo had assured himself, through the schooner's telescope, that the remaining tug was named Seba J. Ransom.
"The captain of that fellow went mate with me on a fishing-steamer once," he informed Captain Candage. "Jockey me down in reaching distance and I'll go aboard him in a dory. He may have some news."
Captain Dodge was immensely pleased to see his old chum, and called him up into the pilot-house and gave him a cigar.
"It's only a loafing job," he said. "I've got to stand by and take off her captain and crew in case of rough weather or anything breaks loose more'n what's already busted. They are still hanging by her so as to deliver her to the buyer."
"Yep! To whatever junkman is fool enough to bid her in. She's stuck fast. Underwriters have gone back on that tug, and are going to auction her. I'm here to help keep off pirates and take her men ashore after she has been handed over. You a pirate, Mayo?" he asked, with a grin.
"I'm almost anything nowadays, if there's a dollar to be made," returned the young man.
The Ransom's captain gave him a wink. "I'm on to what happened on board the Olenia" he confided. "Feller who was in the crew told me. You're good enough for old Marston's girl. Why haven't you gone up to New York and taken—"
"Cut that conversation, Dodge," barked Mayo, his face hard and his jaw jutting threateningly. "Good day!" added the young man, slamming the pilot-house door behind him.
His schooner, standing off and on, picked him up.
"There's no use hanging around here," he informed the old skipper. "They're going to junk her, if they can find anybody fool enough to bid. She'll be guarded till after the auction."
Therefore the Ethel and May shook out all her canvas and headed full and by for Maquoit to secure her fresh supply of bait.
"It's a shame," mourned Captain Candage, staring over the taffrail at the ice-sheathed steamer. "'Most new, and cost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to build, if I remember right what the paper said when she was launched."
"If she was making money they'll have another one in her place," said Mayo.
"Don'no' about that, sir. The Bee line wasn't none too strong financially, I'm told—a lot of little fellers who put in what they could scrape and borrowed the rest. Depends on insurance and their courage what they do after this." He offered another observation after he had tamped down a load in his black pipe. "Men will do 'most anything for money—enough money."
"Seems as if I'd heard that statement before," was Mayo's curt rejoinder.
"Oh, I know it ain't in any ways new. But the more I think over what has happened to the Conomo, the pickeder seems the point to that remark. And whilst I was standing off and on, waiting for you, I run close enough to that steamer to make out a few faces aboard her."
Mayo glanced at him without comment.
"F'r instance, I saw Art Simpson. You know him, don't you?"
"He was captain of Mr. Marston's yacht once."
"Why did he leave her?"
"I heard he had been discharged. That was what the broker said when he hired me."
"Yes, that's what Simpson said. He made a business of going around and swearing about it. Seemed to want to have everybody 'longcoast hear him swear about it. When I see a man make too much of a business of swearing about another man I get suspicious. After Art Simpson worked his cards so as to get the job of second officer on board the new Conomo I got more suspicious. Now that I have seen how that steamer has been plunked fair and square on Razee, I'm almighty suspicious. I'm suspicious enough to believe that she banged during Art Simpson's watch."
"What are you driving at, Captain Candage? Are you hinting that anybody would plant a man for a job of that kind?"
"Exactly what I'm hinting," drawled the skipper.
"But putting a steamer on the rocks at this time of year!"
"No passengers—and plenty of life-boats for the crew, sir. I have been hearing a lot of talk about steamboat conditions since I have been carrying in fish."
"I've found out a little something in that line myself," admitted Mayo.
"There's one thing to be said about Blackbeard and Cap'n Teach and old Cap Kidd—they went out on the sea and tended to their own pirating; they didn't stay behind a desk and send out understrappers."
Mayo, in spite of his bitter memories of Julius Mar-ston's attitude, felt impelled to palliate in some degree the apparent enormities of the steamboat magnates.
"I don't believe the big fellows know all that's done, Captain Candage. As responsible parties they wouldn't dare to have those things done. The understrappers, as you say, are anxious to make good and to earn their money, and when the word is passed on down to 'em they go at the job recklessly. I think it will be pretty hard to fix anything on the real principals. That's why I am out in the cold with my hands tied, just now."
"I wish we were going to get into the Conomo matter a little, so that we could do some first-hand scouting. It looks to me like the rankest job to date, and it may be the opening for a general overhauling. When deviltry gets to running too hard it generally stubs its toes, sir." Captain Candage found a responsive gleam in Mayo's eyes and he went on. "Of course, I didn't hear the talk, nor see the money pass, nor I wa'n't in the pilot-house when Art Simpson shut his eyes and let her slam. But having been a sailorman all my life, I smell nasty weather a long ways off. That steamer was wrecked a-purpose, and she was wrecked at a time o' year when she can't be salvaged. You don't have to advise the devil how to build a bonfire."
Mayo did not offer any comment. He seemed to be much occupied by his thoughts.
Two days later a newspaper came into Mayo's hands at Maquoit, and he read that the wrecked steamer had been put up at auction by the underwriters. It was plain that the bidders had shared the insurance folks' general feeling of pessimism—she had been knocked down for two thousand five hundred dollars. The newspapers explained that only this ridiculous sum had been realized because experts had decided that in the first blow the steamer would slip off the ledges on which she was impaled and would go down like a plummet in the deep water from which old Razee cropped. Even the most reckless of gambling junkmen could not be expected to dare much of an investment in such a peek-a-boo game as that.
"But I wonder what was the matter with the expert who predicted that," mused Mayo. "He doesn't know the old jaw teeth of Razee Reef as well as I do."
When the Ethel and May set forth from Maquoit on her next trip to Cashes Banks, Mayo suggested—and he was a bit shamefaced when he did so—that they might as well go out of their way a little and see what the junkers were doing at Razee.
Captain Candage eyed his associate with rather quizzical expression. "Great minds travel, et cetry!" he chuckled. "I was just going to say that same thing to you. On your mind a little, is it?"
"Yes, and only a little. Of course, there can't be anything in it for us. Those junkers will stick to her till she ducks for deep water. But I've been wondering why they think she's going to duck. I seined around Razee for a while, and the old chap has teeth like a hyena—regular fangs."
"Maybe they took Art Simpson's say-so," remarked the old man, wrinkling his nose. "Art would be very encouraging about the prospects of saving her—that is to say, he would be so in case losing that steamer has turned his brain."
"Guess there wasn't very much interest by the underwriters," suggested Mayo. "They weren't stuck very hard, so I've found out. She was mostly owned in sixty-fourths, and with marine risks up to where they are, small owners don't insure. It's a wicked thing all through, Candage! That great, new steamer piled up there by somebody's devilishness! I believe as you do about the affair! I've been to sea so long that a boat means something to me besides iron and wood. There's something about 'em—something—"
"Almost human," put in the old man. "I sorrowed over the Polly, but I didn't feel as bad as if she'd been new. It was sort of like when old folks die of natural causes—you know they have lived about as long as they can. It's sorrowful to have 'em go, but you have to feel reconciled. But I know just how it is with you in the case of that steamer, for I'm a sailor like you. It's just like getting a fine boy through college, seeing him start out full of life, and courage, and hopes, and prospects, and then seeing him drop dead at your feet."
There was a quaver in the old man's tones. But Mayo, who knew the souls of mariners, understood. Under their hard shells there is imagination that has been nurtured in long, long thoughts. In the calms under starlit skies, in the black darkness when tossing surges swing beneath the keel, in the glimmering vistas of sun-lighted seas, sailors ponder while their more stolid brothers on land allow their souls to doze.
"You are right, Captain Candage. That's why I almost hate to go out to the Conomo. Those infernal ghouls of junkmen will be tearing her into bits instead of trying to put the breath of life back into her."
The helpless steamer seemed more lonely than when they had visited her before. The mosquito fleet that had surrounded her, hoping for some stray pickings, had dispersed. A tug and a couple of lighters were stuck against her icy sides, and, like leeches, were sucking from her what they could. They were prosecuting their work industriously, for the sea was calm in one of those lulls between storms, a wintry truce that Atlantic coastwise toilers understand and depend on.
Mayo, his curiosity prompting him, determined to go on board one of the lighters and discover to what extremes the junk jackals were proceeding.
Two of his dorymen ferried him after the schooner had been hove to near the wreck.
"What's your business?" inquired a man who was bundled in a fur coat and seemed to be bossing operations.
"Nothing much," confessed the young man from his dory, which was tossing alongside the lighter. "I'm only a fisherman."
The swinging cranes of the lighters, winches purring, the little lifting-engines puffing in breathless staccato, were hoisting and dropping cargo—potatoes in sacks, and huge rolls of print paper. Mayo was a bit astonished to note that they were not stripping the steamer; not even her anchors and chains had been disturbed.
"Fend off!" commanded the boss.
Captain Dodge dropped one of the windows of his pilot-house and leaned on his elbows, thrusting his head out. The tug Seba J. Ransom was still on the job. She was tied up alongside the wreck, chafing her fenders against the ice-sheathed hull.
"Hello, Captain Mayo!" he called, a welcoming grin splitting his features. "Come aboard and have a cigar, and this time I'll keep the conversation on fish-scales and gurry-butts."
The man in the fur coat glanced from one to the other, and was promptly placated. "Oh, this is a friend of yours, is he, Captain Dodge?"
"You bet he is. He's been my boss before now."
"If that's the case make yourself at home anywhere. But you know what some of these fellows alongcoast who call themselves fishermen will do around a wreck when your back is turned!"
Mayo nodded amicably.
"Step on board," invited the boss.
"I'm all right here in the dory, and I'm out from underfoot, sir. We're going along to the fishing-grounds in a jiffy. I'm only satisfying a sailor's curiosity. Wondered what you intended to do with this proposition."
"We're only grabbing what's handy just now. Some of the cargo forward is above water. I'm in on this thing in a sort of queer way myself." This keen-eyed young man who had been so heartily indorsed by the tugboat skipper afforded the man in the fur coat an opportunity for a little conversation about himself. "I'm the outside man for Todd & Simonton, of Boston, and bought on the jump after I'd swapped a wire or so with the house. Happened into that auction, and bought blind. I believe in a gamble myself. Then somebody wired to the concern that they had been stuck good and fine, and they gave me a sizzler of a call-down in a night message. A man can sit at desk in Boston and think up a whole lot of things that ain't so. Well, I've flown out here with what equipment I could scrape up in a hurry, and you can see what I'm doing! There's enough in sight in the way of loose cargo to square me with the concern. But, blast the luck! If Jake Simonton had a little grit and would back me I believe we'd make a killing."
"Of course, it all depends on how she's resting and what will happen when the next blow comes," said Mayo. "Have you been below?"
"I'm a hustler on a dicker, and a hellion on junk," snapped the boss. "I'm no sailor, prophet, or marine architect. I simply know that she's full of water aft and has got something serious the matter with her innards. I'm pulling enough out to make Simonton sorry he sassed me in a night message. Only he will never let on that he's sorry. He never lets loose any boomerangs that will scale around and come back and hit him. He wants to be in a position to rasp me the next time I make a mistake in a gamble."
"All the crew gone ashore—the Bee line men?"
"Sure—bag and baggage. We own her as she stands. That second officer had 'em shivering every time a wave slapped her. I was glad when he got away. He pretty nigh stampeded my men. Said she was liable to slide any minute."
The drawling voice of Captain Dodge broke in above them. "Here comes the tug Resolute" he stated. "Mebbe it's another one of them night messages from your concern, Titus. May want you to put what you can carry of her in a paper bag and bring it to Boston."
"You never can tell what they're going to do in Boston," growled the outside man. "I get discouraged, sometimes, trying to be enterprising."
He began to pace, looking worried, and did not reply to several questions that Mayo put to him. So the young man accepted Captain Dodge's invitation and climbed to the tugboat's pilot-house. He had a very human hankering to know what the coming of that tug from the main signified, and decided to hang around a little while longer, even at the risk of making Captain Candage impatient.
The Resolute brought a telegram, and the man in the fur coat slapped it open, took in its gist at one glance, and began to swear with great gusto.
He climbed into the Ransom's pilot-house, with the air of a man seeking comfort from friends, and fanned the sheet of paper wrathfully.
"Orders to resell. Get out from under. Take what I can get. Don't want the gamble. And here I have cleaned a good profit already."
"Why don't you fire back a message advising 'em to hold on?" asked Captain Dodge.
"And have a gale come up in a few hours and knock her off'n this rock? That's what would happen. It would be just my luck. I'm only a hired man, gents. If my firm won't gamble, it ain't up to me. If I disobey orders and hold on, I'll be scared to death the first time the wind begins to blow. There's no use in ruining a fine set of nerves for a firm that won't appreciate the sacrifice, and I need nerve to keep on working for 'em. I say it ain't up to me. Me for shore as soon as I load those lighters. Every dollar I get by reselling is velvet, so let 'ergo!"
"What do they tell you to do about price?" ventured Mayo.
"Take the first offer—and hurry about it. They seem to have an idea that this steamer is standing on her head on the point of a needle, and that only a blind man will buy her."
He went back to his crew, much disgusted, ordered the freshly arrived tug to wait for a tow, and spurred laggard toilers with sharp profanity.
"Somebody has been scaring his concern," suggested Mayo, left alone with Captain Dodge.
"Perhaps so—but it may be good business to get scared, provided they can unload this onto somebody else for a little ready cash. This spell of weather can't last much longer. Look at that bank to s'uthard. I don't know just what is under her in the way of ledges—never knew much about old Razee. But my prediction is, she'll break in two as soon as the waves give her any motion."
It was on the tip of Mayo's tongue to argue the matter with the tugboat man, but he took second thought and shut his mouth.
"You're probably right," he admitted. "I'd better be moving. I don't see any fish jumping aboard our schooner. We've got to go and catch 'em. Good-by, Dodge."
When his associate came in over the rail of the Ethel and May Captain Candage, from force of habit, having picked up his men, gave orders to let her off into the wind.
"Hold her all-aback!" commanded Mayo. "Excuse me, Captain Candage, for a cross-order, but I've got a bit of news I want you to hear before we leave. The junk crowd has got cold feet and are going to sell as she stands, as soon as they get cargoes for those lighters."
"Well, she does lay in a bad way, and weather is making," said the skipper, fiddling his forefinger under his nose dubiously.
"They haven't even skimmed the cream off her—probably will get all her cargo that's worth saving and some loose stuff in the rigging line. By gad! what a chance for a gamble!"
"It might be for a feller who had so much money he could kiss a slice of it good-by in case the Atlantic Ocean showed aces," said the old man, revealing a sailor's familiarity with a popular game.
"There is such a thing as being desperate enough to stake your whole bundle," declared Mayo. "Captain, I'm young, and I suppose I have got a young man's folly. I can't expect you to feel the way I feel about a gamble."
"I may look old, but I haven't gone to seed yet," grumbled the skipper. "What are you trying to get through you?"
"That fat man on that lighter has a telegram in his pocket from his folks in Boston, ordering him to take the first offer that is made for the Conomo as she stands. I'm fool enough to be willing to put in every dollar I've got, and take a chance."
Captain Candage stared at his associate for a time, and then walked to the rail and took a long look at the steamer. "I never heard of a feller ever getting specially rich in the fishing game," he remarked.