Mayo, wild thoughts urging him to desperate ventures, snapped out corroboration of that dictum..
"And I've known a lot of fellers to go broke in the wrecking game," pursued Captain Candage. "How much have you got?" That question came unexpectedly.
"I've got rising six hundred dollars." He was carrying his little hoard in his pocket, for a man operating from the hamlet of Maquoit must needs be his own banker.
"I've got rising six hundred in my own pocket," said the skipper. "That fat man may have orders to take the first offer that's made, but we've got to make him one that's big enough so that he won't kick us overboard and then go hunt up a buyer on the main."
The two Hue and Cry fishermen who had ferried the young man were nesting their dory on top of other dories, and just forward of the house, and were within hearing. Neither captain noted with what interest these men were listening, exchanging glances with the man at the wheel.
"And after we waggle our wad under his nose—and less than a thousand will be an insult, so I figger—what have we got left to operate with? It won't do us any good to sail round that steamer for the rest of the winter and admire her. What was you thinking, Mayo, of trying to work him for a snap bargain, now that he's here on the spot and anxious to sell, and then grabbing off a little quick profit by peddling her to somebody else?"
"No, sir!" cried the young man, with decision. "I've got my own good reasons for wanting to make this job the whole hog or not a bristle! I won't go into it on any other plan."
"Well, we'll be into something, all right, after we invest our money—the whole lump. We'll most likely be in a scrape, not a dollar left to hire men or buy wrecking outfit."
The two men finished lashing the dories and went forward.
"It's a wild scheme, and I'm a fool to be thinking about it, Captain Candage. But wild schemes appeal to me just now. I can make some more money by working hard and saving it, a few dollars at a time, but I never expect to see another chance like this. Oh yes, I see that bank in the south!" His eyes followed the skipper's gloomy stare. "By to-morrow at this time she may be forty fathoms under. But here's the way I feel." He pulled out his wallet and slapped it down on the roof of the house. "All on the turn of one card! And there comes the blow that will turn it!" He pointed south into the slaty clouds.
Captain Candage paused in his patrol of the quarterdeck and gazed down on the wallet. Then he began to tug at his own. "I'm no dead one, even if my hair is gray," he grumbled.
The two captains looked at the two wallets, and then at each other. The next moment their attention was fully taken up by another matter. Their crew of fifteen men came marching aft and lined up forward of the house. A spokesman stepped out.
"Excuse us, captings, for meddling into something that p'raps ain't none of our business. We ain't meaning to peek nor pry, but some of us couldn't help overhearing. We've cleaned out our pockets. Here it is—three hundred and sixty-eight dollars and thirty-seven cents. Will you let me step onto the quarter-deck and lay it down 'side of them wallets?" He accepted their amazed silence as consent, and made his deposit solemnly.
"But this is all a gamble, and a mighty uncertain one," protested Mayo.
"We 'ain't never had no chance to be sports before in all our lives," pleaded the man. "We wouldn't have had that money if you two heroes hadn't give us the chance you have. We wa'n't more'n half men before. Now we can hold up our heads. You'll make us feel mighty mean, as if we wasn't fit to be along with you, if you won't let us in."
"You bet you can come in, boys!" shouted Captain Candage. "I know how you feel."
"And another thing," went on the spokesman. "We 'ain't had much time to talk this over; we rushed aft here as soon as we heard and had cleaned out our pockets. But we've said enough to each other so that we can tell you that all of us will turn to on that wreck with you and work for nothing till—till—well, whatever happens. Don't want wages! Don't need promises! And if she sinks, we'll sing a song and go back to fishing again."
The man at the wheel let go the spokes and came forward and deposited a handful of money beside the rest. "There's mine. I wisht it was a million; it would go just as free."
"Boys, I'd make a speech to you—but my throat is too full," choked Mayo. "I know better, now, why something called me over to Hue and Cry last summer. Hard over with that wheel! Jockey her down toward the wreck!"
When they were within hailing distance of the lighter Mayo raised his megaphone. "Will you take fifteen hundred dollars—cash—now—for that wreck, as you leave her when you've loaded those lighters?" he shouted.
There was a long period of silence. Then the man in the fur coat replied, through his hollowed hands: "Yes—and blast the fools in Boston who are making me sell!"
XXVII ~ THE TEMPEST TURNS ITS CARD
And one thing which we have to crave, Is that he may have a watery grave. So well heave him down into some dark hole, Where the sharks 'll have his body and the devil have his soul. With a big bow wow! Tow row row! Pal de, rai de, ri do day! —Boston.
After the man in the fur coat had placed a hastily executed bill of sale in Mayo's hands, he frankly declared that his interest in the fortune of the wrecked steamer had ceased.
"The Resolute reports that storm signals are displayed. I'll simply make sure of what I've got. I'll play the game as those quitters in Boston seem to want me to play it."
The tugs, departing with their tows, squalled salutes to the little schooner hove to under the counter of the Conomo.
"Sounds like they was making fun of us," growled Candage. He scowled into the gray skies and across the lonely sea.
Mayo, too, sensed a derisive note in the whistle-toots. Depression had promptly followed the excitement that had spurred him into this venture. The crackle of the legal paper in his reefer pocket only accentuated his gloom. That paper seemed to represent so little now. It was not merely his own gamble—he had drawn into a desperate undertaking men who could not afford to lose. They had put all their little prosperity in jeopardy. There were women and children ashore to consider. He and his fellows now owned that great steamer which loomed there under the brooding heavens. But it was a precarious possession. The loss of her now would mean not merely the loss of all their little hoards—it would mean the loss of hope, and the sacrifice of expectations, and the regret of men who have failed in a big task. He realized how stinging would be defeat, for he was building the prospects of his future upon winning in this thing.
Hope almost failed to reassure him as he gazed first at the departing lighters and then at the ice-panoplied hulk on Razee.
Surely no pauper ever had a more unwieldy elephant on his hands, without a wisp of hay in sight for food.. He had seen wrecking operations: money, men, and gigantic equipment often failed to win. Technical skill and expert knowledge were required. He did not know what an examination of her hull would reveal. He had bought as boys swap jack-knives—sight denied! He confessed to himself that even the pittance they had gambled on this hazard had been spent with the recklessness of folly, considering that they had spent their all. They had nothing left to operate with. It was like a man tying his hands behind him before he jumped overboard.
Oh, that was a lonely sea! It was gray and surly and ominous.
Black smoke from the distant tugs waved dismal farewell. A chill wind had begun to harp through the cordage of the little schooner; the moan—far flung, mystic, a voice from nowhere—that presages the tempest crooned in his ears.
"I can smell something in this weather that's worse than scorched-on hasty pudding," stated Captain Can-dage. "I don't know just how you feel, sir, but if a feller should ride up here in a hearse about now and want my option on her for what I paid, I believe I'd dicker with him before we come to blows."
"I can't blame you," confessed the young man. "This seems to be another case of 'Now that we've got it, what the devil shall we do with it?'"
"Let's pile ashore on the trail of them lighters and dicker it, and be sensible," advised his associate. "I feel as if I owned a share in old Poppocatterpettul—or whatever that mountain is—and had been ordered to move it in a shawl-strap."
Mayo surveyed their newly acquired property through the advancing dusk.
"I believe I know a feller we can unload onto," persisted Candage. "He has done some wrecking, and is a reckless cuss."
"Look here," snapped his associate, "we'll settle one point right now, sir. I'm not hurrahing over this prospect—not at all. But I'm in it, and I'm going to stick on my original plan. I don't want anybody in with me who is going to keep looking back and whining. If everything goes by the board, you won't hear a whicker out of me. If you want to quit now, Captain Candage, go ahead, and I'll mortgage my future to pay back what you have risked. Now what do you say?"
"Why, I say you're talking just the way I like to hear a man talk," declared the skipper, stoutly. "I'll be cursed if I like to go into a thing with any half-hearted feller. You're my kind, and after this you'll find me your kind." He turned and shouted commands. "Get in mains'l, close reef fores'l, and let her ride with that and jumbo."
"That's the idea!" commended Mayo. "The Atlantic Ocean is getting ready to deal a hand in this game. We have got to stick close if we're going to see what cards we draw."
A fishing-schooner, if well handled, is a veritable stormy petrel in riding out a blow. Even the ominous signs of tempest did not daunt the two captains. They were there to guard their property and to have their hopes or their fears realized.
"If the Conomo has got her grit with her and lives through it," said Captain Candage, "we'll be here to give her three cheers when it's over. And if she goes down we'll be on deck to flap her a fare-ye-well."
In that spirit they snugged everything on board the schooner and prepared to defy the storm. It came in the night, with a howl of blast and a fusillade of sleet like bird-shot. It stamped upon the throbbing sea and made tumult in water and air. At midnight they were wallowing with only a forestays'l that was iced to the hardness of boiler plate. But though the vast surges flung their mighty arms in efforts to grasp the schooner, she dodged and danced on her nimble way and frustrated their malignity. Her men did not sleep; they thawed themselves in relays and swarmed on deck again. Each seemed to be animated by personal and vital interest.
"You can't buy crews like this one with wages," observed Captain Candage, icicled beard close to Mayo's ear. "I reckon it was about as my Polly said—you cast bread on the waters when you took their part on Hue and Cry."
The young man, clinging to a cleat and watching the struggles of their craft, waved a mittened hand to signify that he agreed. In that riot of tempest and ruck of sea he was straining his eyes, trying to get a glimpse of the hulk on Razee. But the schooner had worked her way too far off to the west, pressed to leeward by the relentless palm of the storm.
Then at last came morning, an opaque dawn that was shrouded with swirling snow, and all was hidden from their eyes except the tumbling mountains of water which swept to them, threatened to engulf them, and then melted under their keel. The captains could only guess at the extent of their drift, but when the wind quieted after midday, and they were able to get sail on the schooner, they were in no doubt as to the direction in which the steamer must lie. They began their sloshing ratch back to east.
Mayo braved nipping wind and iced rigging and took the glass to the main crosstrees. He remained there though he was chilled through and through.
At last, near the horizon's rim, he spied a yeasty tumult of the sea, marking some obstruction at which the waves were tussling. In the midst of this white welter there was a shape that was almost spectral under the gray skies. The little schooner pitched so ferociously that only occasionally could he bring this object into the range of the glass. But he made sure at last. He clutched the glass and tobogganed to deck down the slippery shrouds.
"She's there, Captain Candage!" he shouted. "The teeth of old Razee are still biting."
They were back to her again before the early night descended. She was iced to the main truck, and the spray had deposited hillocks of ice on her deck, weighting her down upon the ledges which had pinioned her. But in spite of the battering she had received her position had not changed. They circled her—the midget of a schooner seeming pitifully inadequate to cope with this monster craft.
"Well," sighed Captain Candage, "thank the Lord she's still here. Our work is cut out for us now—whatever it is we can do with her. They say a mouse set a lion loose once by gnawing his ropes. It looks to me as if we're going to have some blasted slow gnawing here."
They lay by her that night in a quieting sea, and spent wakeful hours in the cabin, struggling rather helplessly with schemes.
"Of course, it's comforting to find her here and to know that the Atlantic Ocean will have to get more muscle to move her," said Candage. "And then again, it ain't so darnation comforting. Looks to me as if she's stuck there so solid that you couldn't joggle her off if you hove the moon at her. I reckon my hope has been what yours has been, Mayo—salvage her whole instead of junking her."
"I'm a sailor, not a junkman. I'd almost rather let my money go, Captain Candage, than be a party to smashing up that new steamer into old iron. She has fooled the guessers by sticking where she is. It has been my hope from the first that she can be floated. She is not a rusted old iron rattletrap. Of course, she's got a hole in her, and we can see now that she's planted mighty solid. But she is sound and tight, I'll wager, in all her parts except where that wound is. I suppose most men who came along here now would guess that she can't be got off whole. I'm going into this thing and try to fool those guessers, too."
"That's the only real gamble," agreed the skipper. "We'd only make days' wages by carving her into a junk-pile. A scrap-heap ain't worth much except as old iron at half a cent a pound; but a new steamer like that is worth two hundred thousand dollars, by gorry! if she's afloat."
"Well, we've got to do something besides lay to here and look at her lines. In the first place, I want to know what's the matter with her—about how much of a hole she has got. Our eyes ought to tell us a little something."
And on that errand Mayo departed the next morning after breakfast.
Only a sailor, young, alert, and bold, could have scaled the side of the steamer in that weather. Her ladder was in place, but nothing much except an exaggerated icicle. But it was on the lee side of her, and his dory was fairly well protected from the rush of the seas. With his hatchet he hacked foothold on the ladder, left his men in the dory, and notched his perilous way to the deck. The fore-hatch was open, just as the hastily departing salvagers had left it. He went below, down the frosted iron ladder. He was fronted with a cheerless aspect. Cargo and water hid what damage she had suffered. The fat man had secured most of the cargo that the water had not ruined.
He climbed back on deck and explored amidships and aft. Her engine-room was partially flooded, for her forepeak was propped on the higher part of the reef, and water had settled aft. Her crew's quarters were above the main-deck, as is the case with most cargo-carriers of the newer type. He found plenty of tinned food in the steward's domains, coal in tie galley bunker, and there was bedding in the officers' staterooms.
Mayo scrambled back to his dory and went aboard the schooner. He reported his findings.
"And here's the only sensible plan for the present, Captain Candage: I'll take two men and a dory and go aboard and guard our property. Somebody must stay here—and I don't want you to take the chances on that wreck. You've got a daughter. You probably know more of the shipyard crowd in Limeport than I do. That's the nearest city, and I believe that when you report that the Conomo is holding after this storm you can hire some equipment on credit and borrow some money."
"I swear I'll do my best. I know a lot of water-front folks, and I've always paid my bills."
"We need stuff for the whole wrecking game—engine, pumps, and all the rest. You go and scout on shore and capture a few men and bring 'em out here to look our prospect over."
"Offer 'em a lay?"
"No, sir. We'll make this a close corporation. I don't propose to let a lot of land sharks in here to manipulate us out of what's our own. It's our gamble, and we want what's coming out of it. Go ashore and see what you can do on prices and terms. Don't close anything till you and I have conferred. I'll have a schedule of needs made up by the time you're back."
Half an hour later he was located on the wreck with the two men he had selected as his companions. They carried tackle with them, with which they hoisted after them their dory—their main bower in case of emergency.
And the sea which Mayo surveyed was more lonely than ever, for the Ethel and May was standing off across the heaving surface toward the main and the hulk was left alone in the expanse of ocean. He felt very much of a pygmy and very helpless as he scrambled about over the icy decks. He remembered that faith can move mountains, but he was as yet unable to determine just what power would be able to move that steamer, into whose vitals the reef of Razee had poked its teeth.
At eight bells, midnight, Mayo turned out of his berth, for he heard something that interested him. It was a soft pattering, a gentle swishing. As a mariner, he knew how sudden can be meteorological changes on the coast in winter. When the north winds have raged and howled and have blown themselves out, spitting sleet and snow, the gentler south winds have their innings and bear balmier moisture from the Gulf Stream. He poked his head out and felt a soft air and warm rain. He had been hoping and half expecting that a change of weather would bring this condition—known as a January thaw. He went back to his bunk, much comforted.
A bright sun awoke him. Clear skies had succeeded the rain, All was dripping and melting. Chunks of ice were dropping from the steamer's stubby masts, and her scuppers were beginning to discharge water from the softening mass on her deck.
He and his little crew ate breakfast with great good cheer, then secured axes from the steamer's tool-house and began to chop watercourses in the ice. A benignant sun in a cloudless sky had enlisted himself as a member of the wrecking crew on Razee Reef. That weather would soon clear the Conomo of her sheathing.
This was a cheerful prospect, because rigging and deck equipment of various kinds would be released. The steamer began to look like a less discouraging proposition. She was no longer the icicle that had put a chill into underwriters and bidders. Mayo lost the somberness that had weighed upon him. The sea did not seem so lonely and so threatening. He felt that he could show something tangible and hopeful to the parties whom Captain Can-dage might be able to solicit.
When he saw a tug approaching in the afternoon his optimism suggested that it brought the skipper and his party; his own hopes were so high now that he felt that men with equipment and money would be eager to loan it to parties who possessed such excellent prospects. In this fashion he translated this apparent haste to get to the reef.
But it was not Captain Candage who hailed him when the tug eased herself against the ladder, her screw churning the sea in reverse. A stranger came out of the pilothouse of the Resolute, carrying a big leather suit-case. He was plainly the passenger who had chartered her. A deck-hand tossed a cast-line to the steamer's deck, and Mayo promptly threw it back.
"You can't come aboard."
"Who says so?"
"I say so. I have a bill of sale of her in my pocket."
"I don't recognize it. The law will have something to say about that later."
"I don't care what the law may say later. I'm talking right now. We own this steamer. What are you here for?"
"I left quite a lot of little personal belongings on her. I went away in a hurry. I want to come aboard with this valise and get 'em."
"They must be pretty valuable belongings, seeing that you've chartered a tug to come out here."
"A fellow's own property means more to him than it does to anybody else. Now that I've gone to all this expense, you ain't mean enough are you, to keep me off? This is between sailors."
"Who are you?"
The man hesitated. "Well, if I've got to be introduced I'll say my name is Simpson—I have been second officer aboard there."
"You're not here with any legal papers—you're not trying any trick to get possession, are you?"
"Take all in hearing to witness that I ain't! I'll pick up my stuff and leave in ten minutes."
"Come aboard, then."
The man set down his suit-case and hitched a heave-line to the handle. He coiled the line and handed it to a deck-hand. "Throw that to me when I'm on deck," he ordered. Then he came up the ladder.
"Heave, and I'll hoist up the bag," suggested Mayo at the rail.
"Wait till I get there," barked the visitor, still climbing. He caught the line after he had reached the rail and pulled up the case with some effort and great care.
"Look here, that bag isn't empty," said Mayo.
"Who said it was? I'm carrying around in it all I own in the world. I'm starting for New York as soon as this tug sets me ashore."
He picked up the case and started for the officers' quarters. Mayo went along, too.
"You afraid I'm going to steal her engine out of her? The few little things of mine I'm after were hidden away, and that's how I forgot 'em. Now don't insult me by following me around as if I was a thief."
"I don't know just what you are," muttered the young man. "There's something that looks mighty phony about this, but I haven't got you sized up just yet."
"I'll go back—go back right now. I supposed I was asking a favor of a gentleman and a brother officer." He started on his return to the ladder.
"Go get your stuff," commanded Mayo. "If your business here is all your own, I don't want to spy on you."
He went back to question the captain of the tug for information in regard to the Ethel and May.
"She's in Limeport," reported the captain, elbows on his window-sill. "Came past her in the inner harbor this morning. You've bit off quite a chunk here, haven't you? We all thought this storm had sluiced her. Made quite a stir up and down the water-front when old Can-dage blew along and reported that she had lived it out."
"Reckon some of the panic boys are talking in another key about the prospects out here, about now, aren't they?"
"Ain't so sure about that, sir," stated the towboat man, loafing into an easier attitude.
"Isn't there a feeling on shore that we are likely to make good on this proposition?" There was solicitude in Mayo's voice. He was acutely anxious. On the sentiment ashore depended Captain Candage's success.
"Can't say that I hear of any!"
"But the talk must—"
"There ain't very much talk—not now. It's generally reckoned that this packet is a gone goose and folks are talking about something else."
"But she is here—she is upright and fast! She is—"
The towboat man was not enough interested to listen to statements concerning the Conomo's condition. "Look-a-here, son," he broke in, "do you think for a minute that this thing wouldn't have been grabbed up by the real people if there had been any show of a make? I know there isn't a show!"
"How do you know?" demanded Mayo, with indignation.
"Haven't I been talking with the representative of one of the biggest salvaging companies on the Atlantic coast? He's there in Limeport now—was aboard my tug this morning."
"How does he know?"
"Well, he does know. That's his business. And everybody in Limeport knows what he has said. He hasn't been bashful about expressing his opinion."
Mayo leaned over the rail, a baleful light in his eyes indicating what his own opinions regarding this unknown detractor were, just then.
"I'd like to know who this Lord Guess-so is—barking behind honest men's backs!"
"Mr. Fogg! That's him! Seems to know his business!"
"'Exactly!' That's his great word," explained the other, grinning. "Some chap, too, with cigars and language!"
"By the gods, now I know who chartered this tug!" he shouted. "What kind of a fool am I getting to be?"
He turned and ran toward the officers' quarters. He leaped into the main passageway and explored headlong the staterooms. There was no sign of his visitor.
At that moment, in the tumult of his thoughts, he had only a glimmering of an idea as to what might be the motive of the man's visit. But he was certain, now, that a wretch who had deliberately wrecked a rival steamer—if Candage's suspicions were correct—would do almost anything else for money.
A narrow companionway with brass rails led below to the crew's quarters. Mayo, coming to the head of it, saw the man hurrying to its foot. The captain grasped the rails and slid down with one swoop.
"What in the devil's name are you doing?" he gasped.
The intruder grabbed him and threw him to one side, and started up the companionway. He had dropped the suit-case to seize Mayo, and it bounced in a way to show that it was empty.
Mayo leaped and grasped the other's legs as he was mounting. The man kicked him ferociously in the breast before the attacker managed to pinion the legs in his arms. They went down together, rolling over and over.
The stranger was stocky and strong, his muscles toughened by a sailor's activities. Moreover, he seemed to be animated by something more than a mere grudge or desire to defend himself; he fought with frenzy, beating his fists into Mayo's face and sides as they rolled. Then he began to shout. He fairly screamed, struggling to release himself.
But his assailant was just as tough and just as desperate, and he had a younger man's superior agility. The other had forced the fight. Mayo proposed to hang to him until he discovered the meaning of this peculiar ferocity.
He flipped across his prisoner, clutched him by both ears, and rapped the man's head so smartly on the deck planks that his victim relaxed, half unconscious.
Then he opened staring eyes. "Let me go! Let me go! I quit. Run for it. Let me run. We're goners!" he squalled.
"Run? Why?" demanded the victor.
"Dynamite! I've planted it. The fuse is going."
"Where is it?"
"Below—somewhere. I've forgot. I, can't remember. My mind is gone. I'm too scared to think. Run!"
Mayo jumped up and yanked the man to his feet. "Take me to it!" he shouted.
"There ain't time. I guessed at the fuse—it may burn quicker than I reckoned."
The young man drove his fist into the other's face and knocked him down. Then he jerked him upright again.
"Take me where you've planted that dynamite or we'll stay here and go up together. And now you know I mean what I say."
The last blow had cowed his man; he raised his fist again.
The visitor leaped away from him and ran along the lower deck, Mayo at his heels. He led the way aft. In the gloom of betweendecks there gleamed a red spark. Mayo rushed to it, whipped off his cap, and snuffed the baleful glow. When he was sure that the fuse was dead he heard his man scrambling up the companion ladder. He pursued and caught the quarry as he gained the upper deck, and buffeted the man about the ears and forced him into a stateroom.
"This means state prison for you! You were guilty of barratry before, and you know it! How did you dare to try this last trick?"
"I had my orders."
"Orders from what man?"
"No matter. You needn't ask. I won't tell." The stranger was sullen, and had recovered some of his assurance, now that his fear of the dynamite was removed.
"You're a lunatic. You ought to have known you couldn't pull off a thing of this kind."
"I don't know about that! It was working pretty slick. If she had split and gone off these ledges, you couldn't have proved anything special. I've got good backing. You better let me go."
Mayo glared at him, deprived of speech by this effrontrery.
"You'd better come over with the big fellows," advised the man. "I can tell you right now that every hole in Limeport has been plugged against you. You can't hire equipment there, or get a cent's credit. It has all been nicely attended to. You're here fooling with a dead duck. You'd be better off if that dynamite had been let alone to split her."
The entire uselessness of words in a situation like this, the inadequacy of speech to meet such brazen boldness, checked Mayo's oath-peppered anathema. He pulled the key from the stateroom door and menaced the prisoner with his fist when the man started to follow him out.
"You don't dare to keep me aboard here! Take warning by what they have already done to you, Mayo! I'm sure of my backing."
"You'll have a chance to use it!" retorted the young man. He dodged out and locked the stateroom door.
"Your passenger is not going back with you, sir," he called down over the rail to the towboat captain.
"I take my orders from him."
"You are taking them from me now. Cast off!".
"I mean what I say, sir. That man you brought out here is going to stay till I can put him into the hands of the police."
"What has he done?"
"The less you know about the matter the better it will be for yourself and your boat! You tell the man who chartered your tug—"
"You have him aboard, there!"
Mayo looked straight into the towboat man's eyes.
"You tell Mr. Fogg, who chartered your tug, that I have his man under lock and key and that the more riot he starts over the matter the better I will be satisfied. And don't bring any more passengers out here unless they are police officers." Then he roared in his master-mariner tones: "Cast off your lines, sir. You know what the admiralty law is!"
The captain nodded, closed his pilot-house window, and clanged his bell. Mayo knew by his mystified air that he was not wholly in the confidence of his passenger and his employer.
This bungling, barefaced attempt to destroy the steamer touched Mayo's pride as deeply as it stirred his wrath. Fogg evidently viewed the pretensions of the new ownership with contempt. He must have belief in his own power to ruin and to escape consequences, pondered the young man. He had put Mayo and his humble associates on the plane of the ordinary piratical wreckers of the coast-men who grabbed without law or right, who must be prepared to fight other pirates of the same ilk, and whose affairs could have no standing in a court of law.
Even more disquieting were the statements that the avenues of credit ashore had been closed. Malicious assertions could ruin the project more effectually than could dynamite. But now that the Conomo had withstood the battering of a gale and bulked large on the reef, a visible pledge of value, it did seem that Captain Candage must be able to find somebody who would back them.
For two days Mayo waited with much impatience, he and his men doing such preliminary work as offered itself.
He expected that Fogg would send a relief expedition, but his apprehensions bore no fruit. His prisoner was sourly reticent and by the few words he did drop seemed to console himself with the certainty that retribution awaited Mayo.
On the third day came the schooner. She came listlessly, under a light wind, and her limp sails seemed to express discouragement and disappointment. Mayo, gazing across to her as she approached, received that impression, in spite of his hopes. He got a glimpse of Captain Candage's face as he came to the steamer's side in his dory, and his fears were confirmed.
"'Tain't no use," was the skipper's laconic report as he swung up the ladder.
"You mean to say you didn't get a rise out of anybody?"
"Nothing doing nowhere. There's a fat man named Fogg in Limeport, and he is spreading talk that we 'ain't got law or prospects. Got a few men to listen to me, but they shooed me off when they found that we wouldn't take 'em in and give 'em all the profits. Went to Maquoit and tried to get Deacon Rowley into the thing—and when I go and beg favors of Deacon Rowley, you can imagine how desperate I am. He's a cash-down fellow—you have found that out."
"But couldn't you show him that this is the best gamble on the coast?"
"He ain't a gambler; he's a sure-thing operator. And when he knew that we had put in all our cash, he threatened to take the schooner away from us unless we go back to fishing and 'be sensible'—that's the way he put it. So then him and me had that postponed row."
"But look at her," pleaded Mayo, waving his hand, "Ice off her, sound in all her rivets after her beating. If we could get the right men out here now—"
"I ain't confident, myself, no more," stated Captain Candage, running an eye of disfavor over their property. "If ye get out here away from level-headed business men and dream about what might happen, you can fool yourself. I can see how it is with you. But I've been ashore, and I've got it put to me good and plenty. I did think of one way of getting some money, but I come to my senses and give it up."
"No matter. I'd cut off both hands before I'd let them hands take that money for a desp'rit thing like this. Let's sell her for scrap to the first man who'll take her—and then mind our own business and go fishing."
"Will you take your turn aboard here and let me go ashore?"
"There ain't no sense in us wasting more time."
"I've done my trick here, Captain Candage, and it has been a good one. I only ask you to take your trick, as a shipmate should. Keep a dozen of the men here with you. There's plenty of grub. Stand off all comers till I get back."
"What are you going to do?"
"Make a man's try, sir, before I let 'em dump us. We can always go fishing. But there's only one Conomo."
"I'll stay. It's only fair to you to have your chance ashore. And I've got an almighty good rifle aboard that schooner," stated the skipper. "Send it to me by one of the men."
"You may need it," stated Captain Mayo, with grim set to his jaw. "You come with me. I want to show you a bird that flew aboard here the other day."
Outside the stateroom door he halted Captain Candage, who was following on his heels, taking Mayo's statement literally, and showing only mild interest.
"Captain Candage, your man, Art Simpson, is in this stateroom. He came out here on a tug with a bag of dynamite, and intended to blow up this wreck."
"Gawd-a-mighty, ain't they going to stop at anything?" croaked the old skipper.
"It's about time for us to find out how much of this is reckless devilishness on the part of hired men and how much the big men really know of what is being done on this coast, sir. And that's why I'm holding this man Simpson."
"Let me at him!" pleaded Candage. "I'll crack his shell for him! I'll get at his meat!"
Mayo unlocked the door and walked in.
"Simpson, you—" bawled the old skipper, and then halted in confusion, his mouth wide open.
"This ain't Art Simpson!" he declared, after amazed survey of the glowering stranger. "Who be ye?"
"None of your infernal business! When you do know who I am you'll discover that you have a tough proposition on your hands."
"We realize that already, without knowing your name," retorted Mayo.
"I'm not worrying; it's for you to do the worrying! I have given you your warning! Now take what's coming to you from the men who are behind me."
"What's your name—that's what I've asked you?" demanded Candage.
"None of your business—that's what I have told you."
"We'll get some light on that subject after I have you on shore," said Mayo. "Come on! You're going!"
"Sooner the better!" agreed the stranger. "I'll relish seeing you get yours!"
Mayo wasted no time. He sent his prisoner down the ladder to the dory ahead of him, and put out his hand to the old skipper.
"If I can't do better I'll take that devil, whoever he is, by the heels, and bat out the brains of the other pirates."
"I reckon that they'll back down when they, see that you've caught him foul," stated the skipper, consolingly. "I've got a lot of confidence in your grit, sir. But I must say it's a terrible tricky gang we're up against, so it seems to me."
"This may be just the right string for us to pull," returned Mayo; "there's no pleading with them, but we may be able to scare 'em."
"I'm afraid I'm too much inclined to look on the dark side," confessed Captain Candage. "You're going to find 'em all agin' ye ashore, sir. But the last words my Polly tells me to say to you was to keep up your courage and not to mind my growling. She thinks We have got a sure thing here—and that shows how little a girl knows about men's work!"
And yet, that one little message of good cheer from the main so comforted Mayo that he went on his way with the whimsical thought that girls who knew just the right time to give a pat and bestow a smile did understand man's work mighty well.
XXVIII ~ GIRL'S HELP AND MAN'S WORK
We know the tricks of wind and tide That make and mean disaster, And balk 'em, too, the Wren and me, Off on the Old Man's Pastur'. Day out and in the blackfish there Go wabbling out and under, And nights we watch the coasters creep From light to light in yonder. —The Skipper.
It was the period of January calms—that lull between the tempest ravings of the equinoxes, and the Ethel and May made slow time of it on her return to the main. In Mayo's mood of anxious impatience, hope in his affairs was as baffling as the winds in the little schooner's sails.
His passenger sat on the rail and gave the pacing captain occasional glances in which irony and sullenness were mingled.
"So you're going to put me into court, eh?" he inquired, when at last they drifted past the end of the breakwater at Limeport. "Well, that will give you a good excuse for throwing up your work on that wreck."
Mayo kept on walking and did not reply. He had been pondering on the question of what to do with this new "elephant" on his hands. In a way, this stranger was an unwieldy proposition to handle in conjunction with the problem of the Conomo.
"Just understand that I don't give a hoot in a scuttlebutt if you do turn me over to the police," pursued the man. "I'm going to be taken care of. So will you! You'll be tied up! Courts like to have chief witnesses attend strictly to the job."
The young man had only a sailor's vague knowledge of the procedure of courts of law; but that knowledge and considerable hearsay had convinced him that law was lagging, exacting, and overbearing.
All his time, his best efforts, his presence were needed in the gigantic task he had undertaken at Razee. To allow himself to be mired in a law scrape together with this person, even in criminal prosecution of the man, surely meant delay, along with repeated interruption of his work, if not its abandonment for a time.
"Where's your boss?" he demanded, stopping in front of the prisoner.
"Don't try to bluff me. Fogg, I mean!"
"You'll probably find Mr. Fogg at the Nicholas Hotel."
"I'm going to walk you up there. If you try to run away—"
"Run your Aunt Huldah! Piff, son! Now you're showing sense. Take me to Mr. Fogg. You'll be shown a few things."
They had no difficulty in finding Mr. Fogg. He was in front of the fire in the office of the Nicholas, toasting his back and warming his slowly fanning palms, and talking to a group of men.
He affected non-recognition of Mayo when the young man asked, brusquely, if he might see him in private.
"Certainly, sir. And your friend?"
The stranger, following up the stairs with Mayo, nudged his companion.
"He's a wonder! 'And your friend?'" he quoted with a chuckle. "No coarse work about that!"
Mayo had firmly decided in his mind that his present business was the only matter he would discuss with Fletcher Fogg. Even though the just wrath of an innocent man, ruined and persecuted, prompted him to assail this smug trickster with tongue, and even with fists, he bound himself by mental promise to wait until he had proofs other than vague words and his own convictions.
"And now—" invited Fogg, when he had closed the door of his room, waiting tmtil his callers had entered.
"Yes, now!" blurted Captain Mayo. "Not then, Mr. Fogg! We'll have that settled later, when I make you pay for what you did to me. This man here, you know him, of course! He tried to dynamite the Conomo. I caught him in the act. He is your man. He has made his boasts that he would be protected."
Mr. Fogg turned a cold stare upon the man's appreciative grin.
"I never saw this person before, sir."
"I know better!" Mayo leaped to a conclusion, and bluffed. "I can prove by men here in this city that you have been talking with him."
"He may have been one of the persons who came to me asking for work on the wreck, providing my concern decided to salvage. But we concluded not to undertake the work, and I paid no attention to him. As far as any memory of mine is concerned, I never saw him before, I say."
"You don't represent any salvage company," insisted Mayo. "You have come here to interfere with anybody who tries to salvage that steamer."
"What is your business with me, sir? Get somewhere!"
"I have come to show you this man. If you'll keep your hands off my affairs, shut your mouth, and stop telling men here that the plan to salvage is hopeless, I'll turn this man over to you. You know what I ought to do to you right here and now, Fogg," he cried, savagely. "But I'm not going to bother—not now. I'm here to trade with you on this one matter."
"I'm not interested."
"Then I shall take this man to the police station and lodge my complaint. When criminal prosecution starts you'll see what happens to you."
"Go as far as you like," consented Mr. Fogg, listlessly. "You can't make me responsible for the acts of a person I don't know from Adam."
"Is that your last word?"
"Of course it is!" snapped the promoter. "You must be a lunatic to think anything else."
"Very well. May I use your telephone to call the police?"
"Certainly." Mr. Fogg lighted a cigar and picked up a newspaper.
"Just a moment before you use that 'phone," objected the third member of the party. "I want an understanding. You please step out of the room, Mayo."
"Stay where you are," commanded Fogg. "I'll give no chance for any underhand work." He scowled when the prisoner winked at him. "This looks to me like a put-up job between you two."
"There's nothing put up between us," declared the man. "There'd better be something put up between you two. The thing can go about so far, where I'm concerned, and no farther. I want an understanding, I say!"
Fogg slapped open the pages of his newspaper.
"I have made my talk," said Mayo.
"By gad, I'm not going to jail—not for anybody!"
Fogg removed his eye-glasses and gave the man a full, unblinking stare.
"Did you try to dynamite that wreck?"
"Is that orders—orders to talk right out?"
"Orders? I don't know what you mean, sir. I have asked you a plain question."
"And you want an answer?"
"What I tried to do didn't work—he was too quick for me. There, now, get together! He has made you a fair offer, Mr. Fogg. There's no need of my going to jail. I won't go!"
"You ought to go, for what you did!" commented Fogg, dryly.
"No, for what he didn't do—from your standpoint," suggested Captain Mayo.
"And you have been boasting, eh?" Fogg kept up his disconcerting stare, with fishy eyes.
"I ain't going to let men walk over me and wipe their feet on me when I'm obeying orders."
"Orders from whom, sir?"
"Condemn it all, orders from men who can protect me by saying one word! I ain't going to stand all this riddle-come-ree business! Flat down, now, Mr. Fogg, what say?"
"Not a word! If what this fellow says is true, you ought to be in jail."
"The advice is good. He'll be there very soon," declared Mayo, starting for the telephone. Fogg replaced his eye-glasses and began to read.
"I'm ready to blow up!" warned the man. He hurried across the room and guarded the telephone with outspread arms.
"Both of you will be sorry if the police are called," he cried. To Mayo, who was close to him, he mumbled, "Damn him, if he dumps me like this you're going to be the winner!"
There was so much reality in the man's rancor that Mayo was impressed and seized upon the idea which came to him.
"We'll test your friend," he whispered, clutching the man, and making pretense of a struggle. "I'll fake a call. Keep wrestling."
Fogg gave only indifferent attention to the affair in the corner of the room.
With one hand holding down the receiver-arm Mayo called; he was pushed about violently, but managed to say: "Desk? Call police to hotel—lobby—at once!"
"Mr. Fogg," pleaded the man, giving Mayo an understanding nudge with his elbow, "ain't you going to give me a chance for a private talk?"
"If you ever speak to me or try to see me again I'll have you arrested."
"But you're dumping me."
"Get out of this room, both of you! I don't want the police up here."
Mayo clapped hand on his prisoner's shoulder and pushed him out.
"Go down-stairs slow," protested the man. "He is bound to come out and call me back! He's got to! He doesn't dare to dump me!"
"He dares to do anything," stated Mayo, bitterly, "including what he did to me and the Montana. I suppose you read about it—everybody else did."
They walked leisurely, but Mr. Fogg's door remained closed. They waited in the office of the hotel. He did not appear.
"By Judas!" rasped the man, "another two-spot torn up and thrown into the discard along with you! And I helped 'em do it to you! I'm coming across, Mayo! That telephone business was a mighty friendly trick to help me force him. I appreciate it! I was on board the Montana that night you and she got yours! My name is Burkett—Oliver. I was there, though you didn't see me."
"I heard you were there, afterward," stated Captain Mayo, grimly. "Captain Wass mentioned you!"
"And probably didn't give me much of a reputation. I can't help that! You needn't put one bit more trust in me, Captain Mayo, than you want to. I don't ask you to have any respect for me. But I want to tell you that when a man promises to back me and then turns round and dumps me so as to cover his own tracks, he will get his if I'm able to hand it to him! I'm generally dirty. I'm especially dirty in a case like that!"
"If you show me any favors, Mr. Burkett, I suppose I'll have to depend on your spite against Fogg instead of your affection for me. You see, I'm perfectly frank. But I have been fooled too much to place any trust in anybody."
"I don't ask you to trust me. I know how the Montana job was done. I'm not going to tell you right now. I'm going to make sure that I have been thrown down by Fogg. And if I have been—if he means it—I'm going to use you so that I can get back at him, no matter how much it helps you. I can be pretty frank myself, you understand!"
They were silent and looked at each other.
"Well?" inquired Burkett, sourly.
"Well, what?" asked Mayo, with as little show of liking.
"What about this police business—about your complaint against me?"
"I'm not going to say anything about the case! You're free, as far as I'm concerned. I am ashore here to make a raise of money or credit. I can't spend any time in court, bothering with you."
"I reckon you got your satisfaction out of that beating-up you gave me. I rather began to like you after that," said Burkett, pulling one corner of his mouth into a grin that was a grimace. "I'm going to stay at this hotel."
"Fogg will see that our affair just now was a bluff. He will have you into camp once more."
"You've got to take your chances on it, Mayo. What do you say?"
"I'll take my chances."
"By gad! sir, you're a square chap, and I'm not meeting many of that sort in these days! Let this thing hang. Before you leave the city, slip word to me here. I'll tell you the news!"
With that understanding they parted.
Three days later, acknowledging to himself that he was a thoroughly beaten young man, Mayo walked into the Nicholas Hotel. He had been unable to secure either encouragement, money, or credit. There were parties who would back him in any attempt to junk the Conomo; but his proposition to raise her with the aid of the tribe of Hue and Cry made his project look like a huge joke and stirred hearty amusement all along the water-front. Everywhere he found proof of Fogg's neat work of discouragement. If a real salvaging company had turned the scheme down as impracticable, how could penniless amateurs hope? It was conceded in business and financial circles that they hoped because they were amateurs.
Mayo's outlook on his own strictly personal affairs was as dismal as his view of the Razee project in which his associates were concerned. He went to the hotel merely because he had promised Burkett that he would notify that modern buccaneer regarding any intended departure. He despondently reflected that if Fogg and Burkett had agreed again, the combination against him still existed. If they were persistently on the outs, Burkett was merely a discredited agent whose word, without proofs, could be as easily brushed away as his connection with Fogg in the' matter of the Conomo. In fact, so Mayo pondered, he might find association with Burkett dangerous, because demands for consideration can be twisted into semblance of blackmail by able lawyers. He entertained so few hopes in regard to any assistance from Burkett that he was rather relieved to discover that the man was no longer a guest at the hotel.
"Has he left town?"
"I suppose there's no secret about the thing," explained the clerk. "Mr. Fogg had the man arrested yesterday, for threatening words and actions. Something of that sort. Anyway, he is in jail and must give bonds to keep the peace."
Mayo's flagging interest in the possibilities of Burkett as an aid in his affairs was a bit quickened by that piece of news, and he hurried up to the jail. If ever a captured and fractious bird of passage was beating wings against his cage's bars in fury and despair, Mr. Burkett was doing it with vigor. Mayo, admitted as a friend who might aid in quelling the disturbance that was making the deafened jailers and noise-maddened prisoners regret the presence of Mr. Burkett, found the man clinging to the iron rods and kicking his foot against them.
"It's the last thing he did before he left town, this what he has done to me. I can't give bonds. I don't know anybody in this city," raved the prisoner.
"I'm afraid that I don't know the folks here very well, judging from my experiences trying to raise money," stated Captain Mayo, after he had quieted Burkett. "But I'll go out and see what I can do."
After some pleading he induced a fish wholesaler to go to the jail with him and inspect Burkett as a risk in the matter of bonds. Mr. Burkett, being a man of guile, controlled his wrath and offered a presentable guise of mildness.
"But how am I going to know that he won't be hunting this enemy up as soon as I give bonds?" asked the fishman.
"Captain Mayo is tackling a job of wrecking, offcoast," said Burkett, "and I'm out of work just now and will go with him. I'll be a safe risk, all right, out there."
"Does that go with you, Captain Mayo?"
After the matter of bonds had been arranged before the commissioner, and when Burkett walked down the street with Mayo, the latter stopped on a corner.
"I'll have to leave you here, Burkett. I'm going aboard the schooner. We're sailing."
"But how about your taking me?"
"I was willing to help you lie that much, Burkett. I knew you did not intend to go with me."
"I don't want to put you in bad with anybody after this, Captain Mayo. I need to keep away for a time where I won't be in danger of seeing Fletcher Fogg. If I meet him while I'm frothing like this, I'll kill him, even if it means the chair. Give me a lay aboard that steamer, no matter how bad your prospects are, and I'll be square with you. That's my man's word to you. I realize it isn't much of a word in your estimation—but there are some promises I can keep. I propose to help you get back at Fogg and his gang. That's reason enough for what I'm doing," he pleaded, earnestly. "You ought to see that yourself. I'm just as good a man with machinery as I am in the pilot-house. I won't set you back any!"
"All right, Mr. Burkett, come along," agreed Mayo, curtly, without enthusiasm.
There was a fair wind for their departure and Mayo headed the schooner for Maquoit. The few words which Captain Candage had dropped in regard to Rowley's state of mind worried Mayo. His little edifice of hope was tottering to a fall, but the loss of the Ethel and May meant the last push and utter ruin. He decided that he was in honor bound to preserve the schooner for the uses of the men of Hue and Cry, even if it meant abandonment of the Conomo and going back to fishing. Without that craft they would be paupers once more.
The Ethel and May sneaked her way into Maquoit harbor—if a schooner can be said to sneak. A breeze at nightfall fanned her along, and when her killick went down, the rusty chain groaned querulously from her hawse-hole.
Mayo rowed ashore and toiled his way up the little street to the widow's cottage. He was ashamed to meet Polly Candage—ashamed with the feelings of a strong man who has put out every effort and has failed. But, somehow, he wanted to feel that sisterly grip of her hand and look down into those encouraging gray eyes. He remembered that in times past she had soothed and stimulated him. This time he did not come to her expecting to get new courage for further effort; he had exhausted all resources, he told himself. But in his bitter humiliation he needed the companionship of a true friend—yes, he felt, almost, that she was now the only friend he had left. His experiences with those whom he had before looked on as friends had made him feel that he stood alone.
She came running to him in the little parlor, her hands outstretched and her face alight.
He felt at first sight of her, and his face flushed at thought of his weakness, that he wanted to put his head on her shoulder and weep.
"You poor boy, things have not been going well!"
He choked, for the caress in her tones touched his heart. He patted her hands, and she sat down beside him on the old haircloth sofa.
"I've had a terrible week of it, Polly."
Her sweet smile did not waver. The gray eyes stared straight into his.
"I have talked to 'em till my mouth has been parched and my tongue sore, and God knows my heart is sore. All they do is look at me and shake their heads. I thought I had friends alongshore—men who believed in me—men who would take my word and help me. I'll never be fooled again by the fellows who pat you on the back in sunny weather, and won't lend you an umbrella when it rains unless you'll leave your watch with 'em for security. And speaking of the watch," he went on, smiling wistfully, for her mere presence and her unspoken sympathy had begun to cheer him, "reminds me why I'm here in Maquoit. Oh yes," he put in, hastily, catching a queer look of disappointment on her face, "I did want to see you. I looked forward to seeing you after all the others had turned their backs on me. There's something wonderfully comforting in your face, Polly, when you just look at me. You don't have to say a word."
"I do thank you, Boyd."
"I hear that Rowley is getting uneasy about his schooner—wants to take it away from us. So I have sold my watch and all the other bits of personal things I could turn into cash, and am here to give him the money and tell him we're going back to fishing again."
"You'll give up the steamer?"
"Yes—and hopes and prospects and all. I've got to."
"But if you could win!"
"I'll stay down where I belong. I won't dream any more."
"Don't give up."
"There's nothing else to do. We poor devils need something besides our bare hands."
The girl struggled mightily with her next question, but he did not note her emotions, for his elbows were on his knees and he was staring at the rag carpet.
"Will it cost a lot of money for what you want to do on the steamer?"
"We may need a lot before we can do it all. But I have been sitting up nights planning the thing, Polly. I have gone over and over it. When I was on board the steamer waiting for your father, I examined her as best I could.. If I had a little money, I could make a start, and after I started, and could show the doubters what could be done, I could raise more money then. I am sure of it. Of course the first investment is the most dangerous gamble, and that's why everybody is shy. But I believe my scheme would work, though I can't seem to get anybody else to believe it."
"Will I understand if you'll tell me?"
"I'd get a diver's outfit and material, and build bulk-heads in her, both sides of the hole in her bottom. Then I'd have an engine and pumps, and show that I could get the water out of her, or enough of it so that she'd float."
"But the big hole, you wouldn't mend that?"
"I think we could brace the bulkheads so that we could hold the water out of both ends of her and let the main hole in her alone."
"And she wouldn't sink?"
He was patient with the girl's unwisdom in the ways of the sea.
"Since you've been here at Maquoit, Polly, you have seen the lobster-smacks with what they call 'wells' in them. All amidships is full of water, you know—comes in through holes bored in the hull—fresh sea-water that swashes in and out and keeps the lobsters alive till they get to market. But the vessel is tight at both ends, and she floats. Well, that's what I plan to do with the Conomo. With a few thousand dollars I'm sure I can make enough of a start so I can show 'em the rest can be done." He promptly lost the bit of enthusiasm he had shown while he was explaining. He began his gloomy survey of the carpet once more. "But it's no use. Nobody will listen to a man who wants to borrow money on a wild hope."
She was silent a long time, and gazed at him, and he did not realize that he was the object of such intent regard. Several times she opened her mouth and seemed about to address him eagerly, for her eyes were brilliant and her cheeks were flushed.
"I wish I had the money to lend you," she ventured, at last.
"Oh, I wouldn't take it—not from a girl, Polly. No, indeed! This is a gamble for men—not an investment for the widow and orphan," he declared, smiling at her. "I believe in it; that's because I'm desperate and need to win. It's for a big reason, Polly!"
She turned her face away and grew pale. She flushed at his next words:
"The biggest thing in the world to me is getting that steamer off Razee and showing that infernal Marston and all his 'longcoast gang that I'm no four-flusher. I've got it in for 'em!"
He patted the hands she clasped on her knees, and he did not notice that she was locking her fingers so tightly that they were almost bloodless. He rose and started for the door.
"I'll go and pacify Rowley to-night, and be ready for an early start."
"Boyd," she pleaded, "will you do me a little favor?"
"Most certainly, Polly."
"Wait till to-morrow morning for your business with Mr. Rowley."
"Why?" He looked at her with considerable surprise.
"Because—well, because you are a bit unstrung, and are tired, and you and he might have words, and you might not use your cool judgment if he should be short with you. You know you are a little at odds with all the world just now!" She spoke nervously and smiled wistfully. "I would be sorry to have you quarrel with Mr. Rowley because—well, father is a partner, and has already had words with him. Please wait till morning. You must not lose the schooner!"
"I'm too far down and out to dare to quarrel with Rowley, but I'll do as you say, Polly. Good night."
"You're a good boy to obey a girl's whim. Good night."
The moment his foot was off the last step of the porch she hurried to her room in the cottage and secured a little packet from her portfolio.
She heard the thud of his dory oars as she walked down the street. She was glad to know that he was safely out of the way.
Rowley's dingy windows shed a dim blur upon the frosty night. It was near time for him to close his store, and when she entered he was turning out the loafers who had been cuddling close to his barrel stove.
After a few moments of waiting the girl was alone with him.
"No, I don't want to buy anything, Mr. Rowley. I need your help. I ask you to help me to do a good deed."
He pulled his spectacles to the end of his nose and stared at her doubtfully and with curiosity.
"If it's about the schooner, I'd rather do business with men-folks," he said.
"This is business that only you and I can do, and it must be a secret between us. Will you please glance at this bank-book?"
He licked a thin finger and turned the leaves.
"Deposit of five thousand dollars and accrued interest," he observed, resuming his inquisitive inspection of her animated countenance.
"My mother's sister left me that legacy. It's all my little fortune, sir. I want to loan that money to my father and Captain Mayo."
"Well, go ahead, if you're fool enough to. I ain't your guardeen," assented Deacon Rowley, holding the book out to her. "But I advise you to keep your money. I know all about their foolishness."
"My father wouldn't take it from me—and Captain Mayo wouldn't, either."
"That shows they ain't rogues on top of being fools."
"But I have faith that they can succeed and make a lot of money if they get a start," she insisted. "I see you do not understand, sir, what I need of you. I want you to lend them that money, just as if it came from you. I'll give you the book and a writing, and you can draw it."
"Won't you help a girl who needs help so much? You're a Christian man, you say."
"That's just why I can't lie about this money. I'll have to tell 'em I'm lending it."
"You will be lending it."
"How's that, miss?"
"For your trouble in the matter I'll let you collect the interest for yourself at six per cent. Oh, Deacon Rowley, all you need to do is hand over the money, and say you prefer not to talk about it. You're a smart business man; you'll know what to say without speaking a falsehood. You'll break my heart if you refuse. Think! You're only helping me to help my own father. He has foolish notions about this. You can say you'll let them have it for a year, and you'll get three hundred dollars interest for your trouble."
"I don't believe they'll ever make enough to pay the interest—much less the principal."
"Give them five thousand dollars and draw a year's interest for yourself out of my interest that has accrued."
"Say, how old be you?"
"I'll be twenty-two in June."
Deacon Rowley looked at her calculatingly, fingering his nose.
"Being of age, you ought to know better, but being of age, you can do what you want to with your own. Do you promise never to let on to anybody about this?"
"I do promise, solemnly."
"Then you sign some papers when I get 'em drawn up, and I'll hand 'em the money; but look-a-here, if I go chasing 'em with five thousand dollars, I'll have 'em suspecting that I'm crazy, or something worse. It ain't like Rufus Rowley to do a thing of this sort with his money."
"I know it," she confessed, softening her frank agreement with an ingenuous smile. "But Captain Mayo is coming to you to-morrow morning on business about the schooner, and you can put the matter to him in some way. Oh, I know you're so keen and smart you can do it without his suspecting a thing."
"I don't know whether you're complimenting me or sassing me, miss. But I'll see it through, somehow."
She signed the papers giving him power of attorney, left her bank-book with him, and went away into the night, her face radiant.
She threw a happy kiss at the dim anchor light which marked the location of the Ethel and May in the harbor.
"I am helping you get the girl you love," she said, aloud.
She went on toward the widow's cottage. Her head was erect, but there were tears on her cheeks.
XXIX ~ THE TOILERS OF OLD RAZEE
Hurrah! Hurrah! for Yankee wit. Hurrah! Hurrah! for Cape Ann grit. It's pluck and dash that's sure to win—"The Horton's in! The Horton's in!" —Old Locality.
Polly Candage, covering her emotions with that mask of demureness which nature lends to the weaker sex for their protection, received a tumultuous Mayo next morning in the parlor of the cottage.
"I don't know how it has happened. I don't understand it," he exploded. "I didn't suppose anybody could blast money out of his pocket with dynamite—your father said it couldn't be done. But Deacon Rowley has loaned us five thousand dollars. Here's his check on the Limeport First National. Only charges six per cent. I'm so weak it was all I could do to walk up here."
"What did he say to explain it?" inquired Polly, with maiden's curiosity in learning to what extent of prevarication a deacon would go in order to make three hundred dollars.
"Wouldn't say much of anything. Handed out this check, said my indorsement on it would be enough for a receipt, and said your father and I could sign a joint note later—sometime—when he got around to it. Have you heard any rumor that the old fellow is losing his mind? But this check looks good!"
"Well, I think he's been pondering on the matter since father was here. In fact, Deacon Rowley has said a few things to me," said the girl, meeting Mayo's gaze frankly. "Not much, of course, but something that hinted he had a lot of confidence in both of you, seeing that you have used him nicely in the other business he has done with you. Sometimes, you know, these hard old Yankees take a liking to somebody and do things all of a sudden."
"This is sudden, all right enough," stated Mayo, scratching the serrated edge of the check across his palm as if to make sure it was real and not a shadow. "Yes, he told me not to mention the note to him till he said something to us about it himself, and to keep quiet about the loan. Didn't want others running to him with their schemes."
"And if I were in your place," advised the girl, "I wouldn't tell father where you got the money—not for a time. You know, he doesn't get along so very well with Deacon Rowley—old folks sometimes do quarrel so—and he might be worried, thinking the deacon had some scheme behind this. But you don't think that way, do you?"
"I have the money, and he hasn't asked me to sign any papers. There's no come-back there, far as I can see," declared the young man.
"Now what will you do?"
"Rush for Limeport, hire equipment—for I've cash to pay in advance for any leases—and get to that wreck and on to my job."
"Simply tell father you raised the money—from a friend! If he is worrying about anything, he doesn't work half as well. I'll ask God to help and bless you every hour in the day."
"Polly Candage," cried Mayo, taking her warm, plump hands, "there's something about you that has put courage and grit and determination in me ever since you patted my shoulder there in the old Polly. I have been thinking it over a lot—I had time to think when I was out aboard that steamer, waiting."
"There's only one girl for you to think about," she chided.
His face clouded. "And it's the kind of thinking that isn't healthy for a man with a normal mind. Thank the Lord, I've got some real work to think about now—and the cash to do that work with." He fondled his pocket.
She went with him to the wharf, and when the schooner slid to sea behind Hue and Cry her white handkerchief gave him final salute and silent God-speed.
Captain Boyd Mayo, back in Limeport once more, was not the cowed, apologetic, pleading suppliant who had solicited the water-front machinists and ship-yard owners a few days before. He proffered no checks for them to look askance at. He pulled a wallet that was plethoric with new yellowbacks. He showed his money often, and with a purpose. He drove sharp bargains while he held it in view. He received offers of credit in places where before he had been denied. Such magic does visible wealth exert in the dealings between men!
He did not come across Fletcher Fogg in Limeport, and he was glad of that. Somebody informed him that the magnate had gone back to New York. It was manifest to Mayo that in his contempt Fogg had decided that the salvaging of the Conomo intact had been relegated to the storehouse of dreams. His purpose would be suited if she were junked, so the young man realized. Only the Conomo afloat, a successful pioneer in new transportation experiments alongcoast, would threaten his vested interests.
There had been wintry winds and intervening calms in the days since Mayo had been prosecuting his projects ashore. But by word of mouth from straying fishermen and captains of packets he had been assured that the steamer still stuck on Razee.
And when at last he was equipped he went forth from Limeport; he went blithely, although he knew that a Titan's job faced him. He kept his own counsel as to what he proposed to do with the steamer. He even allowed the water-front gossips to guess, unchallenged, that he was going to junk the wreck. He was not inviting more of that brazen hostility that characterized the operations of Fogg and his hirelings.
He was at the wheel of a husky lighter which he had chartered; the rest of the crew he supplied from his own men. The lighter was driven by its own power, and carried a good pump and a sturdy crane; its decks were loaded high with coal. The schooner was now merely convoy. It was an all-day trip to Razee, for the lighter was a slow and clumsy craft, but when Mayo at last made fast to the side of the Conomo and squealed a shrill salute with the whistle, the joy he found in Captain Candage's rubicund countenance made amends for anxiety and delay.
"I knew you'd make a go of it, somehow," vouchsafed the old skipper. "But who did you have to knock down in a dark place so as to steal his money off'n him?"
"That's private business till we get ready to pay it back, with six per cent, interest," stated the young man, bluntly.
"Oh, very well. So long as we've got it I don't care where you stole it," returned Candage, with great serenity. "I simply know that you didn't get it from skinflint Rowley, and that's comfort enough for me. Let me tell you that we haven't been loafing on board here. We rigged that taakul you see aloft, and jettisoned all the cargo we could get at. It was all spoiled by the water. There's pretty free space for operations 'midships. I've got out all her spare cable, and it's ready."
"And you've done a good job there, sir. We've got to make this lighter fast alongside in such a way that a blow won't wreck her against us. Spring cables—plenty of them—and we are sailors enough to know how to moor. But when I think of what amateurs we are in the rest of this job, cold shivers run over me."
"That Limeport water-front crowd got at you, too, hey?"
"Captain Candage, I have watched men more or less in this life. It's sometimes a mighty big handicap for a man to be too wise. While the awfully wise man sits back and shakes his head and figures prospects and says it can't be done, the fool rushes in, because he doesn't know any better, and blunders the job through and wins out. Let's keep on being fools, good and plenty, but keep busy just the same."
And on that basis the rank amateurs of Razee proceeded with all the grit that was in them.
The men of Hue and Cry had plenty of muscle and little wit. They asked no questions, they did not look forward gioomily to doubtful prospects. The same philosophy, or lack of it, that had always made life full of merry hope when their stomachs were filled, taking no thought of the morrow, animated them now. Fate had given Mayo and his associate an ideal crew for that parlous job. It was not a question of union hours and stated wages; they worked all night just as cheerily as they worked all day.
An epic of the sea was lived there on Razee Reef during the weeks that followed.
The task which was wrought out would make a story in itself, far beyond the confines of such a narrative as this must be.
Bitter toil of many days often proved to be a sad mistake, for the men who wrought there had more courage in endeavor than good understanding of methods.
Then, after disappointment, hope revived, for further effort avoided the mistakes that had been so costly.
The brunt of the toil, the duty of being pioneer, fell on Mayo.
He donned a diving-suit and descended into the riven bowels of the wreck and cleared the way for the others.
On deck they built sections of bulkhead, and he went down and groped in the murky water, and spiked the braces and set those sections and calked the spaces between bulkhead and hull.
There were storms that menaced their lighter and drove the little schooner to sea in a welter of tempest.
There were calms that cheered them with promise of spring.
The schooner was the errand-boy that brought supplies and coal from the main. But the men who went ashore refused to gossip on the water-front, and the occasional craft that hove to in the vicinity of Razee were not allowed to land inquisitive persons on the wreck.
After many weeks the bulkheads were set and the pumps were started. There were three crews for these pumps, and their clanking never ceased, day or night. There was less water in the fore part; her bow was propped high on the ledges. The progress here was encouraging.
Aft, there were disasters. Three times the bulkhead crumpled under the tremendous pressure of the sea, as soon as the pumps had relieved the opposing pressure within the hull. Mayo, haggard, unkempt, unshorn, thin with his vigils, stayed underwater in his diving-dress until he became the wreck of a man. But at last they built a transverse section that promised to hold. The pumps began to make gains on the water. As the flood within was lowered and they could get at the bulkhead more effectively from the inside, they kept adding to it and strengthening it.
And then came the need of more material and more equipment, for the gigantic job of floating the steamer was still ahead of them.
Mayo felt that he had proved his theory and was now in a position to enlist the capital that would see them through. He could show a hull that was sound except for the rent amidships—a hull from both ends of which the trespassing sea was being evicted. With the money that would furnish buoying lighters and tugs and the massive equipment for floating her, he felt that he would be able to convert that helpless mass of junk into a steamer once more—change scrap-iron into an active value of at least one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
And when he and Captain Candage had arrived at that hopeful and earnest belief, following days of tremulous watching of the work the pumps were doing, the young man went again to the main on his momentous errand.
As they sailed into Limeport, Mayo was a bit astonished to see green on the sloping hills. He had been living in a waking dream of mighty toil on Razee; he had almost forgotten that so many weeks had gone past.
When he went ashore in his dory from the schooner, the balmy breath of spring breathed out to him from budding gardens and the warm breeze fanned his roughened cheeks.
As he had forgotten that spring had come, so had he forgotten about his personal appearance. He had rushed ashore from a man's job that was now waiting for him to rush back to it. He did not realize that he looked like a cave-man—resembled some shaggy, prehistoric human; his mind was too full of his affairs on Razee.
When Captain Mayo strode down the main street of Limeport, it troubled him not a whit because folks gaped at him and turned to stare after him. He had torn himself from his gigantic task for only one purpose, and that idea filled his mind.
He was ragged, his hands were swollen, purple, cut, and raw from his diver's labors, his hair hung upon his collar, and a beard masked his face. They who thronged the streets were taking advantage of the first warm days to show their spring finery. The contrast of this rude figure from the open sea was made all the more striking as he brushed through the crowds.
Here and there he bolted into offices where there were men he knew and whom he hoped to interest. He had no fat wallet to exhibit to them this time. He had only his empty, swollen hands and a wild, eager, stammering story of what he expected to do. They stared at him, many of them stupidly, some of them frankly incredulous, most of them without particular interest. He looked like a man who had failed miserably; there was nothing about him to suggest success.
One man put the matter succinctly: "Look here, Mayo, if you came in here, looking the way you do, and asked me for a quarter to buy a meal with, I'd think it was perfectly natural, and would slip you the quarter. But not ten thousand—you don't look the part."
"What have my clothes got to do with it? I haven't time to think about clothes. I can't wear a plug hat in a diving-suit. I've been working. And I'm still on the job. The way I look ought to show you that I mean business."
But they turned him down. In half a dozen offices they listened and shook their heads or curtly refused to look into the thing. He had not come ashore to beg for assistance as if it were a favor. He had come feeling certain that this time he had a valuable thing to offer. His labors had racked his body, his nerves were on edge, his temper was short. When they refused to help he cursed them and tore out. That they allowed his personal appearance to influence their judgment stirred his fury—it was so unjust to his self-sacrificing devotion to his task.
He soon exhausted his circle of acquaintances, but the rebuffs made him angry instead of despondent. Thrusting rudely past pedestrians who were polite and sleek, he marched along the street, scowling.
And then his eyes fell on a face that gave a fresh stir to all the bitterness that was in him.
He saw Fletcher Fogg standing outside the Nicholas Hotel. The day was bland, the spring sun was warming, but it was evident that Mr. Fogg was not basking contentedly; his countenance was fully as gloomy as that of Captain Mayo, and he chewed on an unlighted cigar and spat snippets of tobacco over the curb while he pondered.
Mayo was not in a mood to reason with his passion. He had just been battering his pride and persistence up against men whose manner of refusal showed that they remembered what Fletcher Fogg had said regarding the prospects of successful floating of the Conomo. There stood the ponderous pirate, blocking Mayo's way on the sidewalk, just as he had blocked the young man's prospects in life in the Montana affair—just as he had closed avenues of credit. Mayo bumped against him and crowded him back across the sidewalk to the hotel's granite wall. He put his two raw, swollen hands on Fogg's immaculate waistcoat and shoved salt-stained, work-worn, and bearded face close.
Even then the promoter did not seem to recognize Mayo. He blinked apprehensively. He looked about as if he intended to summon help.
"You don't seem to have your iron wishbone in your pocket this time," growled the assailant. He jabbed his thumbs cruelly into Fogg's ribs.
"Gad! You're—you're Captain Mayo! I'll be cursed if I knew you till you spoke!"
"I managed to hold myself in the last time you saw me, Fogg. I was waiting. Now, damn you, I've got you!"
He was making reference merely to the physical grip in which he held the man. But Fogg seemed to find deeper significance in the words.
"I know it, Mayo," he whined. "That's why I'm down here. I have been wondering about the best way to get to you—to meet you right!"
"You got to me all right, you infernal renegade!"
"But, see here, Mayo, we can't talk this matter here on the street."
"There isn't going to be any talking!" The meeting-up had been so unexpected and Mayo's ire was so hasty that the young man had not taken thought of what he intended to do. His impulse was to beat that fat face into pulp. He had long before given up all hope that any appeal to Fogg as a man would help. He expected no consideration, no restitution.
"But there must be some talk. I'm here to make it. You have me foul! I admit it. But listen to reason," he pleaded. "It isn't going to do you any good to rave."
"I'm going to mash your face for you! I'll take the consequences."
"But after you do that, you still have got to talk turkey with me about those papers."
In spite of his fury, Mayo realized from Fogg's demeanor and his words that mere fear of a whipping was not producing this humility; there was a policeman on the corner.
"Don't talk so loud," urged Fogg. "Come up to my room where we can be private."
Mayo hesitated, puzzled by his enemy's attitude.
"It's a word from the Old Man himself. He ordered me down here. It's from Marston!" whispered the promoter. "I'm in a devil of a hole all around, Mayo."
"Very well! I'll come. I can beat you up in your room more comfortably!"
"I'm not afraid of the beating! I wish that was all there was to it," muttered Fogg. He led the way into the hotel and Mayo followed, getting a new grip on himself, conscious that there was some new crisis in his affairs, scenting surrender of some sort in Fogg's astonishing humility.
"Will you smoke?" asked Fogg, obsequiously, when they were in the hotel room.
"No!" He refused with venom. He saw himself in one of the long mirrors and had not realized until then how unkempt and uncouth he was. He was ill at ease when he sat down in a cushioned chair. For weeks he had been accustomed to the rude makeshifts of shipboard. In temper and looks he felt like a cave-man.
"I'm in hopes that we can get together on some kind of a friendly basis," entreated Fogg, humbly. "Simply fighting the thing over again won't get us anywhere. I had to do certain things and I did them. You spoke of my iron wishbone! Now about that Montana matter—"
"I don't want any rehearsal, Mr. Fogg. What's your business with me?"
"It's hard to start unless I can feel that you'd listen to some explanations and make some allowances. When a man works for Julius Marston he has to forget himself and do—"
"I have worked for Julius Marston!"
"But not in the finance game, Mayo!" There was a tremble in the promoter's voice. "Men are only shadows to him when it's a matter of big finance. He gives his orders to have results produced. He doesn't stop to think about the men concerned. It's the figures on his books he looks at! He uses a man like he'd use a napkin at table!"