"High and dry on mussel rocks," Dickie Lang announced. "It's a flood tide to-day and with the big ground swell she hasn't a chance."
As they neared the wreck they saw the crew of the stranded vessel huddled together on the sloping deck.
"Don't go in any closer, Tom," cautioned the girl. "The tide's turning. They can wade ashore and watch her break up."
As they circled closer to make the turn, Gregory noticed a red-shirted giant leap from the wreck of the fishing-boat into the shallow water, waving his arms wildly about his head. But the noise of the Petrel's motor drowned the voice of the infuriated fishing captain and his threats and curses were heard only by his own crew.
"It isn't Rossi, after all," Dickie observed as she caught sight of the red-shirted figure. "It's Boris, the crazy Russian. I never knew Mascola to trust him with a boat like the Roma before."
The Petrel turned about and, burying her nose in the big swells, made haste to leave the dangerous water.
"Head for the nets," the girl ordered. "I'm not through with Mascola yet. He has my fish on the Roma. If I had a dory I'd go in there and get them. But it isn't good enough to risk the Petrel."
As they came nearer the two strings of nets, Dickie explained: "I'm going to work the same game on Mascola that the fish commissioner does when he catches them trawling within the three-mile limit. I'm going to salvage his nets and make him pay for his crooked work to get his property. Lay to, Tom, and we'll pull them aboard with mine."
The fisherman drew alongside the row of bobbing corks with a grim smile playing about his lips.
"Have to rustle," he observed. "You know how Mascola's boats follow up."
The girl tossed her head.
"I don't care if his whole fleet comes along. And him with them. I'm going to make him pay me for those fish Boris stole from my nets. I can't take it into court but——"
She paused in the middle of her sentence as her eyes swept the sea. Focusing the binoculars on a small speck on the horizon, she announced: "Here comes Mascola now in his speed-boat. We'll haul them aboard, boys. Then I'll talk business with the dago. Get his nets first."
Falling to eagerly, Gregory received his first lesson in pulling the nets. With straining back and smarting fingers he worked by the fisherman's side hauling the heavy webbing to the deck. As they reached the middle of the string the weight of the sagging nets increased and a number of glistening barracuda floundered from the water, gilled by the strong mesh. The girl observed the fish with darkening brow.
"The dirty robbers," she exclaimed wrathfully. "Look what they have already. I'll bet I'd have had a good haul if they had let me alone."
Gregory noticed as he straightened up that the distant speck on the water was fast assuming the proportions of a motor-launch. He noticed too that the approaching craft was coming at a high rate of speed and was swerving shoreward. Tugging harder at the nets, he worked doggedly on, listening to the staccato bark of the speed-craft as Mascola drew close. They were hauling at the last string when he came within hailing distance.
"What's the matter?" he called. "You're pulling my nets."
"Don't pay any attention to him," admonished Dickie Lang. "I'm not going to hollow my head off. Keep working and wait until he comes alongside."
With his motor purring like an angry cat, Mascola whirled his craft about in a wave-washed circle and drew abreast of the Petrel. At the same instant Gregory and the fisherman lifted the last piece of the Italian's nets to the deck. Gregory straightened his aching back and looked toward the early morning visitor, but his eyes did not get as far as Mascola. They remained riveted on the launch.
Never had he seen such a boat. She poised on the waves like a gull, quivering with potential energy, ready for instant flight. From her sharply V-ed bow to her delicately molded stern, every line of the trim craft spoke eloquently of the plan of a master-designer who fashioned her with a single purpose—speed.
"What's the matter I say? You're pulling my nets."
Gregory freed his eyes with an effort from the launch to survey its owner. Mascola turned angrily on the leather cushion and glared at the Petrel's deck.
Dickie Lang walked coolly to the rail. "Sure I'm pulling your nets," she said. "I've got them all aboard. And that's where they're going to stay until you pay me for the fish your outfit took from my nets."
"I never take your fish. I don't know——"
"Oh, yes you do, Mascola. Boris laid around me and robbed my nets. There's my webbing lying right where I put it out. I caught that crazy Russian of yours with the goods and he lost his head and your boat. He's piled up over there on the beach."
Mascola rose hastily and followed the direction of her arm. In his anger at beholding Dickie taking his nets from the water he had not noticed the wreck of the Roma. A torrent of Italian words burst from his lips. His cheeks purpled and his eyes grew hot with passion. When he controlled himself to speak in English he cried:
"I'll have you arrested for stealing my nets. I'll get a warrant and search your wharf and your house."
"But you won't find your nets." Dickie Lang supplied the words and went on: "Listen, you crook, if you and I don't settle this thing up right now you won't find a piece of your nets big enough to swear what it is. I'm not trying to rob you like you robbed me. I just want what's coming to me. Not a cent more. If you give me that I'll throw your webbing over. If you don't I'll trail them every inch of the way to Legonia and cut them into ribbons with the propeller. It's up to you, Mascola."
The Italian flashed a glance to the cove where the Roma's angling mast appeared against the beach. Then he looked out to sea and his eyes brightened as the mast of a fishing-boat rounded the point and turned shoreward. It was Ankovitch with the Lura.
His launch rode high on a capping swell and a puff of wind caused him to look anxiously at the beach. The tide was beginning to set in strong and the breeze was freshening. He snapped out his watch and scowled. Whatever was done for the Roma must be done at once.
"What do you want?" he flashed.
"Pay for the fish you stole from my nets. From what I saw in your nets I figure I had all of a ton." She glanced at the fish lying on the deck. "You've got about five hundred here. I'll allow you for that. You pay me the difference at three cents. That will be forty-five dollars."
Mascola glared. His hand crept slowly to his pocket.
"None of that."
The girl's words cut like a knife. The hand which lay in her pocket turned and the coat bulged outward.
"I was getting my money," Mascola growled.
"All right. Face about the other way when you get it."
As the Italian turned, Dickie Lang caught up a rifle and threw it loosely over her shoulder. Mascola turned to look straight into the muzzle and drew back sharply. Then he flourished a roll of bills.
"Quick," he said. "You have me at a disadvantage this time. I will pay. Here is the money."
He tossed the bills to the deck.
"All right, Mascola. That squares us for to-day. I'll dump your nets over right where they are as soon as I check up the money. And the next time you try to lay around me I'm going to run through your nets and cut them to pieces."
Mascola dropped to the cushioned seat and whirled half about.
"I will not forget," he said. "To-day you win. Next time——"
His words were lost in the roar of his motor. The speed-boat shot forward like a horse at the touch of a spur. In a whirl of white water Mascola sped away for the beach.
YOU'LL HAVE TO SHOW ME
The sky was reddening in the east when the last of the nets were pulled aboard. Rounding Long Point, the Petrel took up the homeward track as the sun peeped over the low brown hills and caressed the sea. Dickie Lang looked back at the wreck of the Roma and the light of victory died slowly from her eyes.
"I'm not sorry for Mascola," she exclaimed. "He got only what was coming to him. But I am sorry for the little boat. She was a good little scout and she was game to the end. You'll find that boats are a good deal like people," she went on, "when you know them as well as I do. Some of them are cranky and have to be coaxed along. Others are just plain lazy and must be pounded on the back. And there are some that are treacherous and the minute they get you in a tight place, they will lay down cold."
Her last words gave her the cue to continue: "And the ocean is full of tight places. Mascola found himself in one this morning. He had the sense to realize it and act before it was too late. It went against his grain to be beaten by a girl. But by cashing in when he did, he saved a boat perhaps. So he put his pride in his pocket. Sometimes you've got to do that," she concluded seriously. "It hurts. But it's business."
Gregory's face showed his surprise at her annunciation of the business principle and, sensing that her admission might become embarrassing at some future time, the girl changed the subject abruptly.
"Did you see McCoy yesterday?" she asked.
"Yes. We had a long talk last night. He's coming to work for me as house-foreman."
"That's fine," Dickie commended. "You'll like him. He'll be just the man for you."
Gregory nodded. "Yes," he answered. "I think we'll get on fine when we understand each other better."
"What do you mean? You haven't had a row with Jack already, have you?"
"Not exactly. Just a difference of opinion. I had an idea I worked out yesterday. McCoy couldn't see it."
"What was the idea?"
"It was a plan I had for getting labor. I wanted to hire a certain class of men. McCoy didn't."
"How did it come out?"
"I'm going to hire them, of course. I told McCoy if he didn't like it, he could take the job or leave it. He decided to take it."
"It's the foreman's job to hire the help," the girl observed. "What was your plan?"
Gregory looked the girl full in the eyes for a moment. Then he began: "I'm going to organize my business on a cooperative basis, make my employees partners, pay them a graduated minimum wage and a share in the profits which will be held back as a bonus to make it worth their while to stick with me during the season."
"And McCoy thought it wouldn't work?"
"Neither do I."
Dickie knew the question was coming and was already prepared to give her reasons.
"When a man works for you," she explained, "he wants his money every Saturday night. He's earned it and he should have it. He may leave the minute it's in his fingers and hit the grit again. But he's worked a week at least and that's something. If he thinks you're holding out on him to get him to stick, he wouldn't even start."
"That is what McCoy said. But you are both wrong. The men I am figuring on hiring will stick. That is why I am hiring them."
"Don't think much of a bunch like that," Dickie commented. "A man that can't get a job to-day is a bum. And the fellow doesn't live that ever gets through knocking around. That is if he's a real man."
"You're wrong again," Gregory contradicted. "They are eighteen-carat men. I've tried them out already. I know."
"You mean soldiers?"
"Yes. I called up a friend of mine last night in Port Angeles. He used to be first lieutenant in my company. He's a reporter on The Times now. Hawkins told me a lot of the boys were out of work and he promised to look up a number of addresses of men in my old outfit. To-morrow I'm going to the city to round them up. They've stood by me before in many a tight place. It cost them a lot sometimes. But they stuck just the same. Now I've got a chance to stick by them. And I'm going to do it because I know they'll come up to the scratch."
The girl was impressed by the earnestness of his words. He meant well of course. It was a splendid idea but——
She voiced her objections. "You'll find business is a different game from war."
"Perhaps. But in both there is hard fighting. And when you are going into a scrap with all you've got, you want men behind you you can bank on."
"I wouldn't bank on them too strong. A lot of the ones I've seen think they're too good to work at an ordinary job. They have an idea the war has made them worth a lot more money than they really are. They like to tell what great things they've done. But when it comes to——"
"I've seen that kind, too. On both sides of the water. Over there no one depended on them. They were shunted from pillar to post until they hit a place where they couldn't even hear the guns. When the war was over they came back. They were whole. And they talked."
He paused for a moment and looked down at the deck. Then he went on in a low voice: "The kind I'm figuring on are not whole. And they don't talk."
Dickie Lang said no more. When a man spoke with such depth of feeling, what was the use of trying to talk him out of it. Of course he was wrong. But he'd just have to find it out for himself. In silence they neared the entrance to the bay and threaded their way among the fishing-boats as they drew up to the Lang wharf. Gregory roused himself at the sight of the Lang dock and turned to the girl.
"You took me out this morning," he said, "to show me you knew your business. Now it's up to me to show you I know mine. I'm going right to work. I expect a hard fight, but I'll tell you right now this idea of mine is going to win out."
Dickie smiled as they drew alongside the dock.
"Go to it," she said. "I won't say you're wrong. But you'll certainly have to show me."
A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
"What do you expect me to do with a bunch of cripples like that?"
Jack McCoy burst into the office of the Legonia Fish Cannery and hurled the question angrily at his young employer.
Gregory looked hard at McCoy's flushed face and snapping gray eyes. Then he said quietly: "I expect you to train them."
"My God!" McCoy came a step closer. Then he burst out: "Don't you know it's hard enough to run a cannery with real men without——"
Gregory was on his feet in an instant.
"Don't say it," he gritted. "Unless you want to hook up with me right now."
McCoy sought to explain.
"I'm not saying anything against them," he said. "But you don't understand. I wonder if you have any idea what it means to break in a bunch like that."
"Yes. That is why I hired you. I believed you could do it. If you can't, I'll find some one else who will."
Gregory leaned against the desk.
"Listen, McCoy," he said. "You and I have to get down to cases right now. There's no use flying off the handle. If you have anything to say, I'll hear it. Anything except a word against those men out there. They've had enough already. You told me the other day," he went on, "you could break in anybody who'd stick. You showed me just the kind of work there is to do. These men I'll guarantee will stick and I think you'll get quite a jolt when you see what they've been taught to do. They're not all cripples. I've got some huskies for the strong-arm stuff. And there is a lot the other fellows can do. I want you to show them how. You are not taking much of a chance that I can see. You'll get your money the same as you always have, more if you stick through. And every dollar we make, you'll have a few cents of it at least. Can you see anything wrong with that?"
"I don't see where you're going to get off. You seem to think there is a fortune in this business. I'll tell you there isn't. It's hard sledding to make both ends meet as it is."
"I know it. Last night I sat up half the night going over the books. I found my father lost more money on account of labor trouble than from any other cause."
"Except not being able to get fish," corrected McCoy.
"Exactly. That's labor just the same. Since this idea came to me it's getting bigger all the time. I'm going to extend it to the boats as well as the inside. I've got a plan to have Miss Lang take charge of the fishing end, train my men and run her boats for me on a flat rental and salary."
McCoy began to show more interest. "Is she in on the deal?" he asked.
"I haven't had a chance to talk with her yet. I'm going to see her to-day."
McCoy smiled. "I'd like to see Dick's face when you spring the proposition of having her work for you," he said.
"Suppose she turns me down. Has that anything to do with your working for me?"
McCoy's face flushed. "Don't know that it has," he admitted, "but——"
The telephone interrupted further conversation and Gregory turned to the instrument.
"Yes—Mr. Gregory at the phone. All right."
McCoy watched the silent figure as he listened to the message; saw his jaws set tighter as he replaced the receiver and faced about.
"I'd kind of like to talk this thing over with Blair," McCoy began. "You see——"
"I just received a telegram from the sanitarium. Mr. Blair died this morning at nine o'clock."
McCoy crumpled in his chair and rested his head in his hands. "Poor old John," he muttered brokenly, "I ought to have gone up last night when they phoned me he was so much worse." He raised his head and there were tears shining in his eyes. "They didn't make them any whiter than John Blair," he said.
"I knew him only slightly," he said. "But I surely counted on him. His loss means a lot to me. I'll go up there right away and see if there is anything I can do. Would you like to go with me?"
McCoy could only nod and the two men left the building together.
The hearts of men are tested in various crucibles. In a smoothly-moving world human paths diverge and the grooves are often widened by indifference. In times of stress, the diverse threads of commonplace existence may merge into a single strand. Then it is that casual acquaintances become friends, when man rubs elbow with man and hearts beat together in mutual sympathy and understanding.
Jack McCoy returned to Legonia saddened by the loss of an old friend; gladdened by the belief that he had found a new one. It was not what Gregory had done that made the difference to McCoy; simply the way he had done it. Any man with money could have defrayed the expenses of Blair's sickness and funeral. But it took a real man to make the gratuity appear as a favor to the donor.
When he met Gregory at the cannery the morning after their return to Legonia, McCoy was not slow in admitting that he was strong for the boss.
"If we had time, Jack," Gregory was saying, "there is nothing I'd rather do right now than give you a week off on full pay. But you know what that would mean to us at this time. Before we start in I want to make you another proposition."
As the foreman said nothing, he asked bluntly: "How would you like the job as house manager?"
"Fine," McCoy answered. "Do you think I could cut it?"
"Yes," McCoy answered with no hesitation.
"All right then," Gregory answered in the same manner. "So do I. You've got a real job ahead of you. Minutes are going to count in the next few days. The next batch of my service men are due to-morrow."
McCoy jumped up. "That means a day's work for me," he exclaimed, and hurried out.
Gregory glanced at his watch. The next thing to be done was to see Dickie Lang. The matter of securing fish was of cardinal importance. The girl would be at the dock about this time. It would afford him a good chance to make his proposal while she was getting the fish ready for shipment.
Some time after Gregory had left the cannery, Barnes reported he was out of carborundum and McCoy set out at once for Legonia.
"They'd be all day sending it up," he said. "I've got to go down anyway and check over some stuff for us at the freight-house so it might as well be now."
On nearing the Lang dock he heard Dickie's voice issuing from a pile of fish-boxes at the shore end. McCoy checked his steps involuntarily at the girl's words, and without meaning to—listened.
"So you want to pay me a flat rate for my boats and hire me to train your men with my fishermen?"
"Yes. With a share in the profits."
It was Gregory's voice. McCoy noted the quiet tone used by the girl. He felt ashamed to eavesdrop. But he was torn with curiosity to hear Dick's answer.
"Well, you've got your nerve, I'd say. And then some. Do you think you can run my business better than I can myself?"
"If I did, I'd try to buy you out. I'm asking you to run my boats as well as your own and——"
"Be your hired girl."
Dickie supplied the words and went on angrily: "Say, the Lang boats were here a long time before you came. And they'll be here as long after you go. They have gone on their own hook ever since they went into the water. And that's the way they are going to stay. My dad never took orders from anybody. He ran his boats the way he pleased. He was independent. I'm the same way. And I want to tell you right now, I wouldn't sell out my independence to you or any other man."
McCoy crept back into the shadow of the fishing-boxes and making a wide detour went on into town. He was sorry he had listened. It wasn't a white thing to do. He liked Gregory. He was his friend. Then why, he asked himself, was he kind of glad that Dick had turned down his proposition?
Busy days followed for Kenneth Gregory, and with the loyal support of Jack McCoy, much was accomplished.
The Legonia Fish Cannery wakened from its long sleep and took on new life. From the receiving floor to the warehouse everything had been carefully overhauled and put into first-class shape. Necessary repairs and alterations had been made. Supplies and material were on hand. A nucleus of skilled labor had been carefully selected by McCoy and brought to train the service men who came to Legonia on every incoming train.
The sleepy little fishing village viewed the vanguard of the ex-soldiers with sullen indifference. Silvanus Rock had told them not to worry their heads over the "efforts of an impractical dreamer to turn the town upside down." And who knew, if Rock didn't? As the days went by, however, and the invasion became more noticeable, the alien element of the fishing colony began to experience a feeling of sharp resentment against the new owner of the Legonia cannery and his wild scheme. But again the foremost citizen had come to the fore and quieted their fears, turning them into open contempt and ridicule by his words:
"What can he do with a bunch of crippled rag-a-muffins? Look at them for yourselves. There's hardly a whole man among them. I give him a month to go to the wall. It's the old saying of a 'fool and his money.'"
The opening of the new cannery presented every appearance of proving the truth of Rock's prophecy and caused the aliens to laugh openly.
"How can they run without fish?" sneered Mascola as he checked the catch of the incoming boats. "They haven't had enough in a week to pay them to keep up steam."
Ten days after the opening Gregory was asking Jack McCoy the same question.
"I tell you, Mac, something has to be done. The Lang boats are falling down on the job. You'll admit we haven't had a paying run since we started and expenses are climbing."
McCoy nodded. "I know it," he agreed. "But Dick has had hard luck. None of the boats have brought in much lately. The fish have taken out to sea. Then Mascola's men have been causing a lot of trouble."
"That's just it," Gregory interrupted. "The girl's tackled too big a job. I was afraid of it all the time. She's all right, Jack. I'm not saying a word against her. But she was foolish to get on her 'high-horse' and turn down my proposition. It's a man's job to get all the fish we're going to need. Not a woman's. Of course I know she's doing her best," he went on. "But we can't go on this way. If she can't make good on her contract we'll have to take it out of her hands. I'm only going to give her a few more days."
"Then what?" McCoy questioned.
"Then we'll run things ourselves. I've been figuring on it for three or four days. That's why I'm having all our boats put in shape."
"How will you man them?" asked McCoy quickly.
"I've arranged for that too. The last time I was in the city I lined up a bunch of ex-navy men. They are fair sailors and have had some experience in handling launches and small boats. I'm going to bring them down here the same as I figured at first. If the girl wants to help me with her men, all right. If not, we'll go it alone. It's a ground-hog case. We've got to get the fish."
"I wish Dick wasn't so darned independent," observed McCoy. "If it was anybody else, they'd jump at your offer."
"That's the trouble," Gregory admitted. "She's a woman and she's mighty hard to talk out of an idea she sets her mind on. If I was dealing with a man I'd have come to a show-down long before this. As it is, I'm going to see her this afternoon and try to get down to brass tacks."
A screech of the steam whistle interrupted further speech and the two men jumped to their feet and hurried out on the floor of the cannery at the signal to resume work.
"Only have enough to run about an hour," McCoy answered in response to Gregory's question concerning the supply of fish on hand. And as he noticed the frown on his employer's face, he supplemented: "We've had enough the last few days to break the crew in anyway."
"That's something, but it isn't good enough," Gregory answered. "You're fixed right now to handle three times what we're getting. And I'm paying for it. I'm not worrying about things in here, Mac. Everything is going fine."
He paused suddenly and his face glowed with enthusiasm as he walked nearer the cutting-bench.
"Look at the way those poor blind fellows are taking to their job, Mac," he whispered. "They can't tell black from white but watch them work. They'll be doing as much in a week as a man with two good eyes. How are you coming, Dorgan?"
He addressed a cutter working at the nearest bench. The blind man turned quickly.
"Fine, Capt. It's getting easier all the time. 'Twon't be long before I'll be making real wages at this job."
They passed from the blind cutters and came to the capping machine where a man with an artificial leg was being instructed in soldering the cans. Again Gregory's eyes expressed his satisfaction.
"That's fine, Carlson," he commended. "You're getting on fine."
The man at the machine nodded. "Nothing much to it," he answered cheerfully. "Got kind of tired standing at first. But I don't notice it much now."
Kenneth Gregory strove to express his appreciation of McCoy's work as they came to one of the empty warehouses, but the manager refused to take the credit.
"It was your idea," he said, "you paid me to carry it out. At first I didn't think much of it. But now I believe it's going to work. The men are tickled to death. I never had a crew that tried so hard to learn or picked it up so quickly. I can handle an average run with them right now and they've only been working broken hours for a week."
Gregory turned quickly to McCoy and said earnestly: "It's a big idea, Mac. It will work. It's got to work. It's getting bigger all the time. And I'll be damned if I'm going to have a girl hang me up by falling down on her job."
He shut his lips tight as he drew a blue-print from his pocket and spread it out on an empty case.
"Now I want to go over these plans for making a bunk-house out of this building. The boys can't get a decent place to stay in the town. The contractor will be here in half an hour. After I've closed with him I'm going down to the Lang dock and see the girl."
* * * * *
Dickie Lang paced the docks in nervous expectancy while she checked in her returning fleet and conferred with one of her fishing captains.
"I'll tell you, Tom, we've got to get them. I'm under contract to supply Mr. Gregory with fish and I can't fall down like this. Look here." Shoving a tally-sheet before his eyes, she pointed to the totals. "Not enough there to last him half a day. He's beginning to eat them up. We've got to get more."
"But if they ain't runnin', what you going to do?"
"Go after them," she snapped. "Mascola's getting fish. He's going out to sea for them. He brought in a good haul yesterday from Diablo. That's why I sent the big boats over there with the Petrel scouting ahead."
The fisherman shook his head dubiously.
"You're takin' a tall chance," he said slowly. "Things happen out Diablo way. Your dad never could make it stick out there. He lost a heap around that devil-island. That's why he give up fishin' out there."
"He didn't give it up," the girl flashed, "any more than I'm going to give it up. Diablo's got your goats, and you know it. There's always fish around the island and I'll bet you two to one when the fleet comes back they'll have them to burn."
Turning with disgust, Dickie walked to the end of the dock and sought to pierce the shifting curtain of mist which hung about the inlet. It came to her suddenly that in her anger at Gregory's proposal, she had made a big promise. Moreover she had entered into a contract which she was finding more difficult to fulfill than she had imagined. Perhaps she was a fool not to have taken up the cannery-owner's proposition. At least it was worth considering. By accepting his terms all the worry would have been shifted to him and she would have been able to play safe. In a year she would have been out of debt. With her boats paid for, she could afford to be independent. Now, she was going further behind each day. Worse than that, she was falling down on her contract.
* * * * *
Finishing his business with the contractor a half-hour before closing time, Gregory hurried down to the Lang wharf.
He found the girl busied with her tally-sheets and stepped behind a row of fish-boxes and waited. From his position he could see the neighboring dock where a number of alien fishermen were at work mending nets. Apart from the others was the huge figure of a red-shirted man standing motionless, scowling in the direction of the Lang wharf. As he looked closer, he became conscious of the fact that he had seen the red-shirted giant before.
Boisterous laughter floated across the intervening strip of water and a scarlet sleeve flashed as the big man shook his fist threateningly at the rival dock.
"They are kidding the Russian about losing the Roma and getting canned by the boss," explained a fisherman who was passing by. "Boris is sorer than a boiled owl at being run on the rocks by a girl."
Gregory watched the excited foreigner in silence. A man like that could cause a lot of trouble. Suddenly he heard the sound of low voices on the other side of the lane of fish-boxes.
"What's that got to do with it? We've got to live as well as she has. We ain't gettin' enough I tell you, and you know it. What's the use of bein' a damn fool?"
The words died away in a low mumble as the men passed on. Gregory emerged from his cover and looked after the two fishermen. Then he noticed the girl had finished her calculations and hurried toward her.
"I suppose you want to know what I have," she anticipated. "Well, I haven't much yet. If you stay round a little while though I'll show you a real haul. I'm expecting my boats back at any minute from El Diablo."
Gregory scarcely knew how to begin the interview. The girl was clearly unreasonable and flared up at the slightest intimation that she was unable to manage her own business. And yet it was perfectly clear that she could not.
"Fish is what we're needing right now," he said with blunt emphasis. "We're ready to go. McCoy has a good crew and he can handle them fast. A whole lot faster than we've been getting them," he added.
She interrupted as he knew she would.
"Well, I'm doing my level darnedest," she retorted. "If I wasn't I guess I wouldn't have risked my best boats at Diablo in a fog." As Gregory said nothing in the way of argument, she challenged: "Do you think you could do any better?"
"Yes," he answered without any hesitation, "I think I could. That is if you would help me. I think if we would pull together on this proposition we could do a whole lot. Right now you are threatened with labor trouble."
"You don't know what you're talking about. My men are loyal to me and always have been. They'll stick from start to finish."
Gregory related the conversation he had overheard a few minutes before. As he finished, he noted that a worried expression crept to the girl's eyes, though she said:
"What's that amount to? There are always some who are dissatisfied and try to cause trouble. I'm well rid of a bunch like that anyway. There are not many of them."
It was on Gregory's tongue to broach his proposal when he saw the girl looking eagerly past him into the wall of fog. Through the veil he caught the dim outline of an approaching fishing-boat.
"Here comes the Curlew back from Diablo. Before you say anything more wait until you see what luck they've had. If I don't miss my guess we'll have fish enough for you now all right."
Together they walked down the steep gangway to the swaying float.
"If I can't get them at Diablo, I can't get them anywhere," exclaimed Dickie Lang. Then she shouted to the captain of the Curlew: "What luck, Jones?"
From the gray void of fog a deep voice floated back:
"Diablo luck. Never got nothin' and the Petrel was smashed to hell."
Dickie Lang was nonplussed. Her best bet was thrown into the discard. Her pride and independence had been at stake. For her most valued possessions, she had risked her all, and "stood pat" on the turn-up at the devil-island. Her cards were all on the table. Now she had lost. Leaning against the sagging rail she watched the Curlew draw alongside the float. Her slender fingers gripped the hand-rail and the sharp splinters bit into her hands. But what was that to the pain which gnawed at her heart? She hadn't made good. The taste of failure was a new and strange sensation. She had made her fight, done her best. But it wasn't good enough. But why was it necessary to take the little Petrel? Was Diablo to beat her as it had beaten others? No, she must buck up. She was Bill Lang's daughter.
"It's all in the game," she exclaimed to Gregory. "As I told you, the sea plays no favorites."
Before the young man could answer, she had turned from him to meet the men who were climbing from the incoming vessel.
"Hello, boys. Tough luck. But we can't help it. Tell me what happened. Make it short. I've got a lot to do."
The fishermen grouped themselves about her as the quivering figure of a little Mexican lunged through the circle and began to speak:
"Dios, Senorita, it was very bad," he quavered. "We were lying close to shore. The fog was everywhere. We could not see. And the anchor, it would not hold. I was at the chain as you say I must when I hear a boat coming. Jesus de mi alma, but she is coming fast. I can not leave as we are drifting and I say to Pedro that he make a noise with the whistle. But he does not get a chance. As he jumped for the engine-house a big boat she come right out of the fog and before we can move, she smash us all to hell. I fall into the water with Pedro and loose the dory. For a time we drift. Then we are picked up by Senor Jones."
"Did the Petrel sink right away?" Dickie interrupted.
Another man crowded forward and answered the question.
"She didn't sink at all, miss. She wasn't far from the shore and she drifted in with the tide that was settin' in strong. Then she piled up on the rocks. She's layin' there now, high and dry on the beach."
"Didn't the boat that smashed them, lay to?" volleyed the girl.
Again the Mexican began to speak excitedly: "Sangre de Christo, no," he chattered, "The boat, she was very big, Senorita, and she did not stop."
"Nonsense, Manuel. You were crazy with fright. Don't talk like a fool. Go home and go to bed. When you've had a good sleep, I'll talk with you again."
Stung into action by Jones's statement that the hull of the Petrel was still on the beach, she turned suddenly to the wharf.
"Tom Howard," she called sharply. When a voice answered, she ordered: "Fill up the Pelican with oil and stock her with grub. You can get it from Swanson. Throw in a couple of deep-sea hooks and a lot of good hauser. Mind it's new. Be ready to pull out in an hour." She turned again to the men before her. "Jones, I want you to get the Curlew ready. We may need two boats to pull her off. You know where they went ashore. Take Johnson and Rasmussen with you. We've got to move lively. A boat won't hang together long out there."
"Rasmussen's sick. How about Pete Carlin? He was with me coming over."
"Don't want him, Jones. Got to have men who know the game round Diablo in a fog. Take Sorenson."
The fisherman nodded and lumbered up the gangway followed by others. Dickie Lang jammed her hands deep down into her pockets and shrugged her shoulders as she turned to Gregory.
"If it isn't one thing, it's another," she said quietly. "Can you beat it? Manuel saying he was run down? He was scared to death. I don't believe a thing touched him. He just went to sleep and drifted in on the rocks and made up that story to save his job. Well, we'll know when I see the hull."
Gregory listened, scarcely hearing the girl's words. At her announcement of going to the island he began to make tentative plans to accompany her. There might be a lot he could do. And she sure needed help. He wondered if he could offer his assistance without again antagonizing her.
"I'd like to go with you," he said bluntly. "I don't know much about the sea yet, but maybe I can do some of the strong-arm stuff and learn something. Besides, I want to have a look at Diablo."
Dickie regarded him approvingly.
"How about the cannery?" she asked. "My boats will go on fishing just the same."
"McCoy can take care of things all right until I get back. I'll learn a lot more over there than sticking around here."
"You're the boss of that," she replied. Then she added as an afterthought. "I'd be glad to have you."
As they walked to the wharf Gregory encountered McCoy and explained the situation.
"So I'm going out there," he concluded. "While I'm away it's up to you."
McCoy, he noticed, did not enthuse over the idea.
"Diablo's a dangerous place to be fooling around at this time of the year," he said.
"If she can take the risk, I surely can," Gregory answered promptly.
"You're needed here," objected McCoy. "Everything's new and there's liable to be something come up I don't know about."
"Then do the best you can. I'll back you up. You know a lot more about it anyway than I do."
McCoy lapsed into silence while Gregory hurried away to make ready for the trip. When they were ready to shove off, McCoy watched the two boats slide out into the fog with conflicting emotions. Dick knew how to take care of herself all right. She could handle a boat in bad weather with the best of them. But, was that good enough? He reflected suddenly that Bill Lang had been the best of them. And it was on just such a day as this that Bill Lang had met his death on Diablo with Gregory's father.
Leaning against the dripping rail, he cursed the circumstances which prevented his being at the girl's side if anything went wrong. He liked the boss or he would have told him to look for another man. And Gregory's banking on him, tied him up. His inability to join the expedition gave to another the chance which should have been his. Torn by anxiety for the girl's welfare and another emotion he was slower in analyzing, he listened to the faint gulping of the Pelican's exhaust until it was no longer audible.
* * * * *
The sun rose sullenly from a fog-spotted sea and glared wrathfully at the wreaths of low-lying mist which obscured his vision of the saw-toothed peaks of El Diablo. Under the warmth of his gaze, the white-fleeced clouds wavered, shifting about uncertainly. As if loath to leave the devil-island they had guarded throughout the long night, they contracted slowly, niggardly exposing a line of rugged cliffs which shone bleak and gray in the strengthening light of early morning.
"It's breaking up at last. Look!"
Dickie Lang pointed to the dark blot on the horizon.
"Can't. If I take my eyes from this needle for a second the boat'll run all over the ocean."
Gregory continued to stare at the compass while the girl smiled at his earnestness.
"Tom will take her now," she said, nodding to Howard to relieve him at the wheel. Then she added: "You've done fine. We've been going all night on dead reckoning and we're not far off."
Gregory surrendered the wheel with a sigh of relief and followed the direction of the girl's extended arm.
"That's Diablo," she announced. "I'm mighty glad the fog is shifting. Wouldn't have needed to have started so early if we had known. But that's the fun of the sea. You never know. There is no use trying to make it in there in a fog," she added. "It is bad enough when you can see."
While she talked with Johnson concerning the location of the wreck, Gregory found time to note the towering cliffs which rose precipitously from the blue-green sea. Somewhere along that rock-crusted coast, he reflected bitterly, Diablo had claimed another of the Lang boats only a few months ago. Somewhere among the white-crested rocks his father and Bill Lang had met their death. He wondered where, but did not ask. Perhaps the girl would speak of it.
For some time he watched the mist-clouds flee before the brightening rays of the rising sun. Then he noticed that Dickie was standing by his side. Her eyes too were held by the rugged coast.
"The devil dumped it there," he heard her say in a low voice. "And when he saw what a hellish coast it was, he named it for himself. That's what dad used to say." She flung out her arm in the direction of a towering peak. "At the base of that highest cliff was where the Gull went on the rocks. They call it 'Hell-Hole.'"
Staring in silence at the saddle-backed mountain, their minds traveled into the past. Then Gregory asked: "Does any one live on the island?"
"It's a sheep-ranch. A man by the name of Bandrist has it leased on long time from the government. He's Swiss, I think. He farms a little of the land that isn't too rocky and runs his sheep over the rest. The island is about twenty miles long and over ten in the widest place."
"Is fishing good out here?"
"Fine," the girl answered. "Only it's dangerous. Fogs in spring and summer, and storms the rest of the time. Lots of albacore and tuna. But it costs boats and sometimes men to get them. Dad used to fish out here, but something was always sure to happen about the time he got well started. Just like yesterday. Diablo's a place," she said slowly, "where a man just can't make a mistake. If he does, he never lives to tell what happened." She pointed to the frowning cliffs which guarded the shore and extended far out into the water in a series of white-capped reefs. "No anchorage," she explained. "And a strong inshore current. When you get weather out here, it's nasty, and it hits you all in a bunch."
As they neared the island the Pelican slowed down to wait for the Curlew which had been lagging astern.
"Jones must be having engine-trouble," commented Dickie Lang. "Or else Diablo's got him buffaloed too."
"What do you mean?" Gregory asked.
Lowering her voice so that it would not reach the two fishermen on the Pelican, she said: "They all give Diablo a wide berth. The fishermen are scared to death of the island. If you want to hear a lot of wild tales, just talk to some of my men at Legonia. Look at Manuel. Went clean out of his head and the funny part of it is the others all believed him. What's the matter, Jones? Having trouble?"
She addressed the skipper of the Curlew as he brought his craft alongside.
"Been havin' it all the way over," the man replied. "Compression's gettin' worse all the time." He drew a grimy hand across his blackened forehead and squinted in the direction of the island. "No place to be foolin' round with a cripple either, I can tell you," he growled. "Reckon I'd better lay to until I can get patched up."
The girl's brow wrinkled.
"All right, Jones. I'll go on. Follow when you can. We'll be around that next point. Can you beat that?" she exclaimed in a low voice to Gregory. "His feet are getting cold too, and he's one of the best men I have."
Keeping well off the headland they rounded the point and turned shoreward.
Johnson jerked his head in the direction of a small cove which lay almost hidden beneath the brow of an overhanging cliff.
"She lays just beyond that arch."
Dickie ordered a halt.
"Can't chance it in there with the big boat. Throw out the hook and keep your motor warm, Johnson. We may have to get out of here in a hurry. Keep a good eye on the chain for if she starts to drift you'll be on the rocks before you can snub her up. Put the dory over, Tom, and we'll go ashore and take a look."
Under the powerful sweep of Tom Howard's oars, the small boat darted from the shadow of the launch and sped away toward the cove. Rounding the natural arch by which the point projected itself into the sea, they entered the little cove which nestled at the base of the overhanging cliff. Bisecting the cove, a rugged ledge of rock jutted out into the sea. Dickie shaded her eyes with her hand and half rose from her seat. Cradled between two jagged rocks at the extreme end of the ledge, her bow angling sharply, her stern washed by the lapping waves, bruised and broken, lay all that was left of her favorite vessel. Only the girl's eyes mirrored her emotion as she stared at the wreck.
"Looks as if they made a clean job of it," she observed quietly. "Land right in here, Tom. We'll climb up on the ledge and walk over."
Pulling the dory up on the rocks they stumbled over the slippery eel-grass and approached the ill-fated craft. Dickie Lang examined the hull.
"Looks like Manuel wasn't dreaming, at that," she ejaculated, pointing to the jagged hole in the Petrel's side.
"Somebody bumped him all right and it must have been almost in the cove or he would never have drifted in here."
The further examination of the wreck went on in silence. The engine was half-submerged, Gregory noticed, and the water poured from the splintered hull and splashed to the rocks in a series of tiny cataracts.
"Not much of a chance to save anything but the motor and the shaft," Dickie observed. "And we'll have to work lively to do that on this ebb. She'll break up on the flood if there's any sea."
As Howard jerked his head in acquiescence with the girl's diagnosis, a shower of loose rocks rattled from the overhanging cliff. Dickie walked around the Petrel's bow and scrambled to the ledge.
"Looks as if we were going to have company," she announced, pointing in the direction of the bluff, where three men were descending the trail to the beach. Reaching the ledge the strangers walked steadily toward the wreck and halted within a few feet of the salvage party. As they jabbered in a French dialect, Gregory listened intently.
Dickie's hand stole to the pocket of her coat. The men seemed bent on making trouble. It was best to take no chances. Her fingers sought the handle of the Colt in vain. Cursing her negligence in leaving the automatic aboard the Pelican, she stepped forward for a parley with the strangers. Gregory and Howard placed themselves about her as the men moved closer.
"No sabe," exclaimed Dickie Lang. "What kind of lingo are they talking anyway."
Gregory was dividing his attention between the man with the red beard and the weasel-faced stranger who was gesticulating so wildly with his long arms.
"Red-beard says nobody's allowed here, or words to that effect," he interpreted. "Weasel-face backs him up in it and says for us to beat it."
"Tell them what we're here for. And that when we get the boat stripped we'll go, and not before."
The red-bearded man shook his heavy head with slow comprehension. Weasel-face shuffled closer, his small eyes blinking malevolently. The third member of the party, a thick-set man with a face pitted by scars, motioned threateningly in the direction of the dory.
Dickie brushed forward.
"I'll try them in dago," she said.
Gregory watched the strangers move closer to their leader as the girl began to speak; heard his low-voiced words, uttered in a harsh guttural; saw his arm flash out and grasp the girl roughly by the shoulder.
Leaping forward, Gregory found his way blocked by Weasel-face. The islander's hand was fumbling at his belt. Gregory's fist snapped his head backward. The man's hands flew up, but not in time to block the vicious blow which caught him full on the chin.
Weasel-face's legs collapsed. Without a sound he fell in a heap upon the rocks. Holding Dickie Lang in his great arms, the red-bearded man saw his companion fall by his side. With a snarl he released the struggling girl and shoved her from him. Before he could draw his knife Kenneth Gregory was upon him.
REFUSING TO BE BLUFFED
Dickie Lang reeled backward as the red-bearded man shoved her from him. She felt the eel-grass slipping beneath her feet. Striving vainly to regain her balance, she turned cat-like in the air and broke the fall with her hands. As she rebounded to her feet she could see Gregory wrestling with the man who had precipitated the attack. Close by his side, Tom Howard grappled with the scar-faced islander. The third man lay huddled on the rocks where he had fallen.
Dickie decided at once upon her course of action. Gregory and Howard were holding their own against the two men. It was up to her to see that the third of the islanders did not come to the rescue of his companions. The man might regain consciousness at any moment. Then there would be three against two. She remembered suddenly that there was rope on the Petrel. Better than that there was a rifle. It was but a few steps to the launch. She covered it quickly, caught the main-stay and pulled herself aboard.
* * * * *
Kenneth Gregory realized at the outset that he was up against a hard fight. In his hurry to close with the red-bearded man, his foot had slipped on the slimy grass and he had been forced to clinch to save himself from falling. This placed him at a marked disadvantage. His opponent had the best of him in weight by at least twenty pounds and was heavily muscled. Moreover he possessed a certain agility on the grass-covered rocks which rendered any attempt on Gregory's part to force the battle, as extremely hazardous. The islander, at home on the slippery footing, from the start, became the aggressor.
For a time Gregory was content merely to hold his feet against Red-beard's rushes and retain his hold on the islander's knife-arm, should he be possessed of a weapon. Men of that type, he reasoned, were usually short-winded. In time the heavier man would exhaust himself. Then his turn would come. Ahead he noticed a clear space, free from grass. The solid rock would afford good footing. There he would have a better chance.
If the islander was determined to crowd, he might as well crowd in the right direction. Gregory changed front slowly, working his body around the heavier man, giving way before his bull-like rushes. When he reached the position he desired, he checked his circling movement and began to retreat steadily. Keeping his feet wide apart, his body carefully balanced, he backed slowly in the direction of the spot where the grass would no longer slip beneath his feet.
On the other side of the ledge, Tom Howard battled with the scar-faced man. Of equal weight and strength, the struggle resolved itself into a question of endurance, as the two men rolled over each other on the barnacled rocks in an effort to break the other's grip and strengthen his own. Unconscious of their surroundings, their heads locked close to their straining bodies, they grappled blindly, working closer to a deep crevice which lay across their path. For a brief instant they ceased struggling. Their bodies stiffened. With each man seeking to pin the other beneath him they rolled to the crevice and dropped from view.
* * * * *
Dickie, aboard the boat, flashed a glance at the gun-rack. The rifle was gone. The patent-clasp which held the weapon in place had been wrenched free. Her eyes traveled to the empty provision-locker, which stood open. Close by it lay a small monkey-wrench with which some one had battered the padlock.
A wrench would be better than nothing. She caught it up and ran to the deck. Securing a small coil of rope, she jumped to the rocks and raced in the direction of the spot where the weasel-faced man had fallen.
As she ran she caught a glimpse of Gregory giving way before the red-bearded man toward the table-like surface of the ledge which jutted out over the cove. Of Howard she could see nothing. She stopped suddenly as she came in view of the spot where the weasel-faced islander had sprawled upon the rocks.
The man was gone.
* * * * *
Solid rock beneath his feet at last—Red-beard had forced him to the exact spot he desired to reach—Gregory's muscles contracted with a jerk. He stopped retreating and began to slide around the islander. If he was successful in carrying out his plan it was best to have Red-beard on the outside of the ledge.
Divining his purpose, the big man stiffened as he caught a glimpse of the sea over his shoulder. Straining closer to each other's throbbing bodies, the two men redoubled their efforts to twist the other to the outside. Red-beard's breath began to come in gasps. He opened his mouth and sucked in the air feverishly. His corded muscles were beginning to relax. Gregory's feet shot under the islander's legs and the big man narrowly escaped falling. When he regained his balance he could not see the water. The cool air from the sea which had been blowing in his face now stirred the thick hair which covered his neck. He was on the outside of the ledge overlooking the cove.
Before he could recover from his surprise, Red-beard felt the fingers on his arm relax. His opponent wriggled in his arms, stiffened and crushed against him. As the big man fought to regain his balance, Gregory freed an arm and his fist flashed to the islander's ear. Red-beard grunted for breath. Again the rigidly flexed forearm cut under his guard and landed on his hairy chin. As he raised his big arms to protect his head, his antagonist twisted free.
Ducking under the clumsy fist which beat the air above his head, Gregory swung again for the islander's chin. With a snarl of rage, the big man lowered his head. Then his angry growl changed quickly to a grunt of pain as he took the blow full in the forehead. Reeling dizzily, his hand sought his girdle. His fingers closed on the hilt of his knife and jerked it free.
Gregory hurled himself forward at the sight of the steel. Grasping the uplifted arm he wrenched it inward, twisting the man half around. Surprised at the suddenness of the move, the islander gave way in a series of staggering steps which carried him to the edge of the rock ledge overlooking the water.
Retaining his hold on the red-bearded man's wrist, Gregory struck with all his force at the bulging chest. As the blow landed he felt the body crumple in his arms and the knife clattered to the rocks. The islander staggered backward with his assailant pressing close against him. In their struggle both men had for the moment forgotten the overhanging ledge.
Gregory remembered it too late. Red-beard's arms were still about him. Suddenly he felt the dead weight of the islander's body. As he strove to break the man's hold he tottered on the brink of the ledge. He felt himself being dragged downward. Before his eyes flashed the rock-dappled waters of the cove. His only chance lay in clearing the rocks below. His knees straightened with a jerk. Shoving his body outward, he plunged over the ledge with the islander clinging to him.
The warning scream died on Dickie Lang's lips as she ran toward them. Checking her steps on the edge of the rocks overlooking the water, she stared at the ever-widening circles which rippled the water and the jagged rocks which shone ominously dark beneath the surface. She followed the center of the ripples mechanically. Thank God, they had hit in a clear spot. But what chance would a man have throttled like that by another?
The cool rush of air on his throbbing face gave place to a cooler one as the waters closed over Kenneth Gregory's head. He felt his body sinking like a stone. The arms about his body tightened. The blood pounded to his brain. To his mind flashed stories of swimmers who had been drowned by women with the fatal strangle-hold. He realized sharply that he was held by no woman, but a red-bearded giant, insane through fear, incapable of reason. Whatever he did must be done at once.
With an effort which left his lungs pressing hard against his ribs he freed an arm and worked it upward until he felt the matted hair of the islander's beard. From there it was only a span to the throat. That was what he must reach. The throat. The words raced through his brain. The throat. He must shut down on that and hang. His groping fingers searched for the elusive organ. Perhaps Red-beard had no throat. The grotesqueness of the idea caused him to want to laugh. It didn't matter much after all. Not when.... There it was. He had found it at last. His fingers stiffened and slid on the slippery flesh. Then they fastened, tightened and hung.
* * * * *
Good God, would they never come up? Dickie searched the faintly dimpled waters from her commanding elevation, but her closest scrutiny revealed no sign of the men beneath the surface. Kenneth Gregory was drowned as his father had been drowned at Diablo. So intent was the girl upon her examination of the water that she failed to see a limping figure emerge cautiously from behind a pile of rocks and drop into a near-by crevice.
* * * * *
Under the steady pressure of his fingers, Gregory felt the body of the islander relax. Then he became conscious in a vague sort of way, of movement. They were rising to the surface or sinking lower to the bottom. Why couldn't he tell which? He freed his legs from the inert form which twined itself about him, and kicked weakly. The red-bearded man slipped from him at the effort and he narrowly escaped losing his hold upon his throat. He kicked again. If he could only get one gulp of air he could make it. In spite of the ever-increasing pressure on his lungs he found himself getting sleepy. He was tired, worn out. If he could only fill his lungs with something to stop that dull pain, he could go to sleep and rest.
* * * * *
Dickie Lang saw the dark blot of the two figures as they neared the surface. Then she thought of the rope in her hand. She could weigh it with the wrench and throw it from where she stood. Uncoiling it hastily, she measured the distance. Too far, she realized bitterly. She looked to the water's edge. The distance would be shorter from there. Shoving the wrench into her pocket and throwing the rope loosely about her neck, she crawled over the ledge and climbed downward.
The ledge dipped sharply under the overhanging surface and extended shoreward in a narrow shelf, carpeted by kelp and washed by the sea. Around that big boulder would be the best place. From there she could throw the rope to good advantage. She was about to shout encouragement when she heard the sharp splash of a stone falling into the water from the cliff. Shrinking closer to the rocks, she listened. Then crept silently on.
* * * * *
Air to breathe at last! Gregory lay passive on the surface, content to gulp it in in huge mouthfuls. Nothing else mattered now. His head throbbed painfully and his eyeballs burned in their sockets. But he had air. And that was enough. As the pressure of blood on his brain lessened, he became conscious of the fact that he was still gripping the islander's throat. He released his fingers and the big head tilted forward until it rested face down on the water. With a start Gregory realized that the air had come too late for Red-beard. He must get the man ashore at once.
He turned his head slowly and saw the rock ledge only a few feet away. By that big overhanging boulder would be the place to land. There he could crawl up on the soft kelp and rest. Rolling the unconscious man to his back, he swam slowly for the ledge.
* * * * *
Dickie reached the base of the projecting rock and wedging her slender body into a small fissure, peered cautiously through the cleft. So close that she could almost touch him, alert and motionless, stood the weasel-faced man. His small eyes were fixed upon the water. The hand which was nearest her held a knife.
Wriggling from the crevice she hastily retraced her steps. No use trying to squeeze through there. She would be in full view before she would have a chance. Flashing a glance at the rugged surface of the boulder, she began to climb.
* * * * *
It was farther to the ledge than he thought. Something was the matter with his legs. His arms had no strength. They had almost ceased to function. A sharp pain gripped his side and tore downward through his body. Still Gregory swam on. In another moment he could reach out and grip the kelp with his hand. He closed his eyes and swam mechanically. At length his extended fingers touched the sea-grass which fringed the ledge. Twining them eagerly about it, he pulled his aching body closer and rested, clinging to the rocks.
* * * * *
Hand over hand Dickie Lang crawled upward and outward until she could see the water lapping at the ledge beneath. From her vantage point she could see Gregory swimming on with closed eyes in the direction of the rocks. His limbs were moving slowly and his face was drawn with pain. Still he floundered on. Straight for the kelp-covered ledge—and Weasel-face.
A sharp turn in the rocky pathway put the man in full view, only a few feet below. Sheltered from sight of the struggling figure in the water, he waited in silence.
If she called out to warn Gregory to seek a new landing-place it was doubtful if he could make the beach in his exhausted condition. Such a course, too, would make her presence known to the hatchet-faced man who as yet had not observed her. No, it was better to take the man unawares. She thought of the rope. Perhaps she could loop it over his head. She gave up the idea at once. It could only fail. Jamming her hands into her pockets, her fingers closed on the wrench. She jerked it out and balanced it in her hand. A feeling of confidence surged over her. She couldn't miss him from where she stood. Her pastime of flinging stones at the gulls when a child would stand her in good stead now. If the man looked up, she would throw before he could recover from his surprise.
* * * * *
Dragging his tired body wearily from the water, Gregory pulled his unconscious companion after him. As he stretched the islander at full length on the soft kelp and knelt over him, he caught sight of a man's foot protruding from behind a rock.
Gregory stumbled to his feet. At the same instant he heard the sound of a muffled blow. A small wrench clattered to the rocks and fell with a splash into a pool of water.
"I knew I could get him," a girlish voice called from above. Dickie Lang jumped down with shining eyes and made her way toward him. "Buck up," he heard her say. But the voice trailed away into silence.
When he regained consciousness, the girl was bending over him, rubbing his numbed limbs and slapping his cold flesh violently.
"You'll be all right in a minute," she said. "Don't try to talk now. Lie still and rest. Feel better?"
He nodded. As he moved his head he noticed the two figures lying close beside him. Noting the questioning look in his eyes, Dickie explained:
"They're all right or will be in a little while. I'm looking after them. When they come to, I'm going to tie them up." She flourished a small coil of rope.
As his strength returned Gregory began to pick up the loose threads. "Howard?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Don't know where he is. Couldn't see him. Don't worry. Chances are he's all right. He's hard as nails. When you can walk we'll go and look for him."
They found the fisherman huddled against the rocks at the bottom of the small crevice. Close by his side lay the scar-faced islander. Both men were unconscious.
Gregory examined Howard carefully.
"His leg is broken," he announced. "And he's pretty well bruised up. He must have got an awful jolt when he fell on these rocks." Jumping up, he exclaimed: "I'll go and get something for splints," he said. "Make him as comfortable as you can."
When he returned Dickie noticed he carried a heavy oar which he had fashioned into a rude crutch, a number of small strips of wood and a piece of an old blanket.
"Found them on the Petrel," he said as he set to work.
Dickie assisted Gregory in caring for the wounded man. Her respect for the young man increased as she noted the skilful manner with which he worked. Soon Howard's leg was set and after a time he opened his eyes and slowly regained consciousness. The sun was high overhead when they were able to move the injured men. While Howard rested for a moment on the ledge, Gregory carried the unconscious form of the other man to the soft sea-grass and stretched him at full length. Then he thought of the two men they had left on the narrow shelf by the sea.
"I'd better have a look at Red-beard and the other fellow," he said suddenly. "The water might come in there and wash them off."
Dickie nodded. "I'll stay here," she said, and Gregory hurried off.
When he came back he shook his head. "Gone," he announced.
"Don't think so. The water hadn't quite got to where we left them. I guess they sneaked."
Dickie's eyes searched the sea while he spoke.
"I can't understand what is keeping the boys from the Curlew," she said. "We'd better get Tom aboard the Petrel where we can make him more comfortable. Better bring the other fellow too. There's some whisky on the boat unless those devils have stolen it too. Hello, what's that?"
The quiet was broken by the sharp clatter of horses' hoofs. Looking in the direction of the sound, Gregory saw a number of horsemen riding over the crest of the bluff overlooking the cove.
The fisherman glanced toward the dory which lay on the rocks at the extreme end of the ledge.
"Better beat it," he suggested.
Dickie Lang shook her head stubbornly. "No," she said. "We'll leave that man here and the rest of us will get aboard. The Petrel's on tide land and I'll be damned if any one's going to bluff me out."
From the Petrel's sloping deck they saw the horsemen appear in bold silhouette against the sky-line. Swinging from their saddles they walked to meet a white-shirted rider who galloped over the ridge and drew rein among them.
The newcomer remained astride his horse. Resting an arm on the horn of his saddle, he stared into the little cove through his binoculars. Satisfied apparently by what he saw, he dismounted and walked rapidly toward the trail leading to the beach, the men following after him. As they took their way down the cliff Gregory noticed that some of the men carried rifles. When they reached the beach the white-shirted man walked on alone, and without a backward glance, traversed the rocks in the direction of the wreck.
"He walks like a king," commented Dickie Lang. "I wonder if that is Bandrist."
Gregory noted the clean-cut figure of the stranger carefully. The man was about his own height though of slighter build, the spareness of his figure being emphasized by the close-fitting riding-trousers and the thin silk shirt which fluttered about him as he strode along. The fair-haired stranger stopped abruptly when he reached the Petrel's side. Flinging an arm upward with a careless gesture, and looking straight at the girl, he said quietly:
"I am unarmed. May I come aboard your vessel?"
Only the slightest trace of the foreigner was discernible in his speech.
Dickie Lang nodded. "Come ahead," she said. "Whoever you are, you can speak English at least."
The visitor smiled as he caught the mast-stay and drew himself gracefully over the rail.
"I am Leo Bandrist," he introduced. "I fear my men have caused you some annoyance. I am sorry."
Dickie rehearsed the incidents leading up to the trouble with the natives and when she had concluded, Bandrist's forehead wrinkled in a frown.
"I am very sorry," he repeated. "My men, you see, are very stupid. Very ignorant. They understand but little English. Then, too, I have been annoyed by others. You see, I have many sheep and wild goats upon the island. Hunters come to shoot the goats, but they often mistake my sheep for them. Fishermen also have caused me great trouble. I have fenced my lands to keep them out; put up the signs the law tells me I must to protect myself. But no, they disregard my rights. So I give my men instructions to keep them out. When my rangers are opposed they grow ugly. One of them tells me that one of your number began the attack. That angered them, you see, and they fought back. It was but natural. However, I am sorry. I trust that none of your party has been seriously injured."
"Small thanks to you," Dickie snapped. "Your men tried hard enough to commit murder." Nodding in the direction of the unconscious islander, she added: "There's one of your outfit stretched out over there. Another was half-drowned. The third tried to knife Mr. Gregory. I hit him in the head with a monkey-wrench. They both got away or were washed off the ledge."
Bandrist shot a quick glance at Gregory as the girl mentioned the cannery owner's name. At the girl's reference to her part in the affair his eyes lighted with interest. Then the frown came again to his face.
"That is the trouble," he said quickly. "My men do not understand. They know only one way to fight. That is to win. If you will permit me, I shall summon the others to care for their companion."
He waited for the girl's consent. Then he waved his hand to the men on the beach. When they were within ear-shot, Bandrist addressed them rapidly, nodding toward the spot indicated by Dickie Lang. As the men hurried away, he explained:
"They come to me from many countries. Some of them are bad and cause me much trouble. It is so lonesome out here that I can not keep good men. I tell my fence-riders only to keep people away so that they will not kill my sheep. Some of them I arm as you see, because those who hunt also carry guns and are sometimes ugly."
He spread out his slender fingers apologetically.
"Again I am sorry," he said. "If you desire to work now I will see that you are undisturbed, if you will promise to leave the island when you are through. You see I do not want any more trouble," he concluded with frank emphasis. "My men will be very angry when they find their wounded comrade. Sometimes it is difficult for me to restrain them."
The excited jargon of the islanders as they came upon their disabled fellow confirmed the truth of his words. Jabbering to themselves, and casting sullen glances in the direction of the Petrel, they carried the man over the ledge to the beach.
"Mr. Bandrist," said Dickie clearly. "I've as much right to be here as you have. You can't legally keep me from taking the engine out of this boat. She's on tide and you haven't any more claim to that than I have. You know that as well as I do. I'm going to take my time. When I get through, I'll go. And not before. If you are on the square you'll stay here until I do. We don't want trouble any more than you do. But we're not going to be bluffed out on this deal or any other."
Bandrist's eyes shone with unconcealed admiration. He inclined his head in response to her suggestion and exclaimed: "I shall be only too glad to remain here until you are ready to leave."
Dickie Lang turned quickly to Howard. "You keep off your feet, Tom," she said. "I might as well start in. The boys from the Curlew ought to have been here long before this."
Gregory pressed forward. "Tell me what to do," he said.
The girl regarded him approvingly. "You can loosen the stud-bolts on the motor first. Come on," she said. "I'll show you."
Bandrist followed after them. "May I help?" he asked.
She shook her head with decision. "Two's as many as can conveniently work around the engine," she answered.
The work of tearing down the motor began at once. Gregory wore the skin from his knuckles in loosening the stud-bolts while Howard instructed him from the doorway how to take off the carburetor and rip up the feed-line. As they worked the girl made a rapid survey of the parts she desired to salvage.
"Some more of your friends?"
Bandrist pointed seaward where a dory was rounding the point and heading shoreward.
The girl acknowledged his words with a curt nod.
"Here come the boys from the Curlew," she announced.
When the landing party reached the Petrel's side, Jones and Sorenson stared in silence at the white-shirted man leaning against the rail.
"Got things fixed up, Jones? You were a long time coming."
The skipper of the Curlew climbed aboard before replying. Drawing the girl to one side, he said quietly: "Thing's pretty well shot, miss. Took her down and found this."
He extended a blackened handkerchief covered with fine dust. Dickie Lang examined it carefully, rubbing the particles of black grit between her fingers.
Jones nodded. "She's full of it," he answered. "Don't dare and start her up. She'd cut herself to pieces."
Silently regarding the blackened particles, the girl asked: "Carlin was with you yesterday you said, didn't you?"
"Yes. Him and Jacobs."
"Carlin's enough. I knew he was a dub. But I didn't think he had brains enough to be a crook. I know now. Well, we've got enough trouble right here for a while without bothering about your boat. You rip up the motor and Sorenson and Mr. Gregory can strip the deck. We've got to hustle. It will begin to rough up soon. Then we'll have to run with what we have. She'll break up on the flood by the looks of things."
Pausing for a moment to partake of a meager lunch which Dickie discovered had been overlooked by the robber of the Petrel, all hands turned again to the work of salvaging the motor.
Through the long afternoon they worked in silence. As Gregory stripped the iron chaulks from the deck and removed the stays, he noticed that Bandrist leaned idly against the rail with his blue eyes following the movements of Dickie Lang with great interest. Once, before Gregory could surmise his purpose, he sprang to the girl's side and assisted her with a piece of shaft and the ease with which he handled the heavy brass caused the young man to marvel.
A queer specimen of man was Bandrist, he reflected, to be marooned in such a spot as this. Gregory's work gave him a chance to study the islander without being observed. He was a figure who merited more than a passing glance. He would challenge attention in any environment. While he twisted the galvanized turn-buckles, rusted by the salt-air, Gregory appraised the man carefully.
Trained to the minute and hard as nails, he catalogued the slender figure. The long smooth-lying muscles were those of an athlete. He could see them rippling at the open-throat and on the islander's wrist when he raised his arm. The features too were worthy of notice. Line by line he studied them. From the high forehead which bulged over the clear blue eyes, to the delicately ovaled chin. The face was emotionless. Only the curve of the thin lips showed the man beneath the mask. The lips were cruel as death.
The tall crags cast their irregular shadows athwart the cove and a sudden puff of wind, which had freshened as the day wore on, ruffled the quiet waters and caused them to slap angrily at the base of the ledge. Dickie Lang cast a weather-eye to seaward and shook her head.
"Time we were getting in the clear, boys," she said. "The tide's beginning to set in strong and the breeze is freshening. We've got about all we dare fool with. I want to get clear of the Diablo coast before the fog drifts any closer."
The fishermen issued from the engine-house at her words and began to gather up the parts of the dissembled motor and carry them to the waiting skiffs. Then they assisted Howard to the dory. In a few moments they were ready to shove off. Dickie stepped into the dory of the Pelican which Jones shoved into the water.
"I want to get Tom to the launch and have her ready to get under way," she explained to Gregory. "Will you stay and help Sorenson load the rest of the motor?"
Gregory nodded and set to work. Bandrist's eyes followed the departing skiff until it disappeared around the point. Then he motioned Gregory to one side and began to speak: "Do not let her come out here again," he said in a low voice. "Diablo is not a safe place for fishermen, much less a woman. My men will not forget you. I was able to control them to-day. The next time I might not be so fortunate."
However well meant the warning might have been, it rankled in Gregory's breast. He felt his instinctive dislike of Bandrist grow with the man's words. Meeting the islander's eyes squarely, he said in a voice which only Bandrist could hear:
"If it is necessary for us to come to Diablo again, Mr. Bandrist, we will come. If you are unable to handle your men, that will be up to you."
For a moment the two men appraised each other in silence. Then Gregory turned and walked to the waiting dory.
In the purpling dusk they embarked from Diablo and sped across the rippling water to the launch which lay in the offing. Looking back from the stern-seat, Gregory saw the man on the ledge gazing after them with folded arms.
On the deck of the Pelican the girl was issuing hasty orders for the return to the mainland.
"Kick her over, Jones. Johnson, stand by the hook. Here comes the other skiff. Get your stuff aboard, Sorenson, as quick as you can," she called to the approaching dory, "and swing the boat on deck. We'll beat it out of here and take the Curlew in tow. Make it lively, boys. We've got to be under way."
Swinging wide of the headland the Pelican plunged into the trough of the swell and skirting the coast raced on to pick up the disabled Curlew. Dickie Lang looked back at the dim outline of the cliffs as they shadowed the sea.
"Poor little Pete," she exclaimed softly. "It's tough. But it can't be helped."
Gregory alone heard her words.
"It sure is," he said, feeling that the words were wholly inadequate. "And I'm mighty sorry," he added.
The girl started. "I guess I was thinking aloud," she said. "I didn't know you heard." She set her lips together. "It's all in the game, I know," she went on, "but no one but me knows how I hate to lose the little Petrel."
When they picked up the Curlew the fitful wind died suddenly and the air grew heavy with moisture. The white clouds which scurried across the face of the heavens dropped lower and massing themselves together obscured the stars. Piloting the Pelican and her tow safely to the high seas, the girl relinquished the wheel to Johnson with a sigh of relief.
"I'll rustle something to eat, Bill," she said. "We'll stand two-hour watches. I'll take her next. I want to see if there is anything I can do for Tom. I'll be in the cabin. Call me if you sight anything or it gets thicker."
Turning to Gregory, she exclaimed: "The next thing is to eat. I'm starved myself, and I'll bet you're worse."
Repairing to the cabin where the big fisherman was already asleep on the bunk, they ate their first real meal of the day in silence. There was much that they could have talked about, but one does not follow the sea long without learning that opportunities to eat are sometimes golden, and not lightly to be passed over or interfered with by conversation. It was not until the last morsel of food had been consumed, therefore, that Gregory made an effort to voice his thoughts.
"What do you think of Bandrist?" he asked suddenly.
The girl started, surprised that they should both be thinking of the same man. Her forehead wrinkled slowly as she answered:
"I think he's a crook. I don't know why exactly, but I just do. He's too smooth. Too well educated for a sheep-man. He's up to something at Diablo. Don't know what. Don't know that it is any of my business at that. But I don't like him."
"Neither do I," Gregory admitted. "I sized him up as a mighty clever man. He has a hard outfit out there and he pretends he can't control them. That's the bunk. Did you notice how they took orders from him without even talking back?"
"Yes. And he had most of them armed. With orders to keep people off of the island. Why?" she asked suddenly. "I don't believe it's on account of the sheep."
Gregory shook his head emphatically.
"That was bunk too," he said. "They knew we were not trying to hunt. I suppose they did get pretty sore when we roughed it with them, but that didn't give them any license to pull their knives and try to carve us up. That crazy fool would have had me in another minute if it hadn't been for you."
Dickie sought to minimize her part in the affair.
"I didn't do much," she said. "I was just lucky. You did all of the hard work. I thought you were never coming up."
"You were dead game," Gregory cut in. "You saved me from that fellow's knife and you know it."
Dickie Lang made no reply but sat with her arms resting on the cabin-table, looking off into space. Again she saw herself huddled against the rocks, looking down into the sunlit water of the cove, waiting for the men to come to the surface. What a fight Gregory must have had to have freed himself from that strangle-hold and save the life of the other man as well as his own. How skilfully he had worked over Howard. He seemed to know just what to do. She raised her head sharply. Not given to living in the past, she wondered why her mind had gone wool-gathering. Perhaps it was because she was beginning to realize that this man was a man among men. And real men were scarce. He was speaking again.
"There's something wrong at Diablo. I'd give a lot to find out what it is."
"It would cost a lot," she answered soberly. "And what business is it of ours? Dad used to say that monkeying with other people's affairs was a luxury he never could afford."
"But if they interfere with fishing, it is some of our business."
"Yes, but do they?"
"I don't know. That is, not yet," he was forced to admit.
"Neither do I. Until I do, I'm not looking for any more trouble than I can see ahead right now."
Silence for several moments. Then, from the girl:
"Besides, you couldn't find out anything. The fishermen are scared stiff of Diablo as it is. When this gets around, they'll be even worse. They're not looking for more excitement. They have enough."
To Gregory's mind recurred his plan of manning the girl's boats. Here was an opportunity to justify it.
"The bunch I'm figuring on wouldn't be afraid of it," he said. "In fact I think they would kind of enjoy finding out."
Dickie smiled. "Aren't you speaking two words for yourself?" she asked.
He smiled too. "I'll admit I have some curiosity," he answered.
The girl laughed. "You've got into the habit of fighting," she retorted. "But the war is over now."
"Maybe you're right. But at Legonia I've an idea it has just begun."
It was just what she would have had him say. What she would have said herself if she had spoken her mind. She liked a man who wasn't afraid. They were the kind one could tie to. Gregory's proposal again assailed her. It had its advantages. She would think it over while she was at the wheel.
"Boat off starboard quarter," a gruff voice announced from the doorway.
Dickie Lang sprang to her feet and hurried on deck with Gregory following close behind. From the gray gloom came the sharp exhaust of a high-powered motor, running at top speed. As they looked in the direction of the sound, which was fast changing to an angry roar, the shifting wall of filmy fog was pierced by a flash of green.
Gregory was barely able to catch the girl's words above the uproar of the gatlin-like exhaust. The next instant the green light flashed by and was swallowed up in the gloom.
"I wonder what he's doing out here running like that?" Dickie mused.
"How do you know who it was?"
She laughed. "There's only one boat anywhere around here with an exhaust like that," she answered. "That's the Fuor d'Italia. She's the fastest craft in southern waters of her kind. And no one ever runs her but Mascola."
Gregory continued to listen to the rapid-fire exhaust as it died away in the distance. Then he pictured himself driving the trim craft, plunging through the waves and hurling the spray into his face as he raced on. Recalled to himself by the slow-moving Pelican burdened by her tow, he reflected that speed sometimes was everything. If he was going to oppose Mascola he would have to get there first. Dickie was speaking again.
"Joe Barrows built her up at Port Angeles. Mascola hasn't had her very long and he won't have her much longer if he pounds her like that. I wonder what he's going out to Diablo for in such a hurry."
Gregory could not answer. But he made up his mind if he was ever going to find out, he would have to have a faster boat than the Fuor d'Italia. Perhaps Joe Barrows could help him out.
Through the long night the Pelican crept into the thickening fog with the disabled Curlew. Daybreak found them at the entrance to Crescent Bay. When they reached the Lang docks the masts of the fishing-fleet could be dimly discerned through the shifting mist like a forest of bare-trunked trees.
"The boys are late getting out," she observed. "I wonder what's the matter."
As they drew alongside the wharf it was evident that something unusual was in the air. The pier was thronged with fishermen, gathered together in little groups, leaning idly against the empty fish-boxes. At the landing party's approach the low hum of conversation died away into a faint murmur. A solitary figure, standing apart from the others, hurried forward to meet the girl as she walked up the gangway.
"Hello, Jack. What's the trouble?"
McCoy nodded in the direction of the silent fishermen. "Trouble enough," he whispered. "I'm mighty glad you've come, Dick. There's a strike on. Carlin's got them all riled up and there's hell to pay."
A strike at this of all times! And Pete Carlin at the bottom of it! With her nerves frayed raw by two nights of sleepless vigil and the memory of the Curlew's disabled motor rankling within her, Dickie Lang brushed by a group of men and confronted a bullet-headed man in a loose gray sweater.
"Carlin," she said clearly in a voice which all could hear, "you're fired. You're a crook. If you'd work the clock around I wouldn't have you on the job."
Turning to the fishermen she rapidly related the incident of the finding of the emery-dust in the Curlew's motor.
"It's a lie," Carlin interrupted, "I don't——"
"It's the truth, Pete Carlin, and you know it."
Dickie moved closer to Carlin and her eyes met his. "You can't look me in the eye and deny it," she challenged. As the man said nothing, she flashed: "Get off my dock while you're still able to walk. If I was a man I'd knock you down."
The man grinned but did not move.
"But you ain't," he retorted. "I reckon I ain't goin' to have no fool girl tell me where to head in at. I reckon I——"
A heavy hand fell on his shoulder and his sentence remained unfinished. Gregory's eyes were snapping close to Carlin's.
"Beat it," he said, "while the trail's open."
Carlin flashed a glance over his shoulder at the fishermen who stood looking on in stoical silence. Then he decided to go. Mumbling to himself, he turned sullenly from the men about him and walked slowly down the dock.
Dickie Lang faced the silent fishermen.
"Now, boys, what is it? I'll hear what you've got to say. But I won't have any dealings with a crook."
The men about her shuffled their feet and drew closer. Then a man in a faded plaid jumper detached himself from the others and began to speak.
"We ain't got nothin' against you, Miss Lang," he began uncertainly. "But we've all got to look out for ourselves. We got families and folks dependin' on us. Livin' 's out of sight. So is clothes and everything. We——"
"What's your proposition, Blagg?"
The fisherman hesitated at the directness of the question. Then he recited: "Straight time. Eight-hour day for six dollars. Double money for overtime and Sundays."
Dickie started at the demand. Carlin had done his work well to set such a limit as that. She wondered how far the seeds of discontent had spread among the others. As her eye traveled over the silent groups, Blagg went on:
"You see, miss, as I say we got families and the women-folks——"
"Don't blame the women, Joe," interrupted the girl. "If they got half of what the saloons leave they'd have no kick coming. I'll bet they're not back of this. You've been listening to a half-baked fool who couldn't make a living if dollars grew on trees. All Pete Carlin can do is talk. You boys know he isn't a fisherman."
She stepped closer and her voice dropped to a conversational tone. "It just isn't in the business, boys. If I promised to pay those wages I couldn't do it. I'd be broke with the first run of bad luck and you know it as well as I do, if you'd stop to think. The man doesn't live who can pay that around here and get out."
Blagg smiled knowingly at the fishermen.
"You're wrong, miss," he said. "We've already got the offer for a job at them terms."
He nodded. "Right here in town. We won't have to move nor nothin'." Watching the effect of his words upon the girl, he went on, carried away by the importance of his announcement. "That's why we're puttin' it up to you. You've always shot pretty square with us. But money talks, and we all got to look out for Number One. I reckon none of the boys is honein' to go to work for a furrinor, but we all knows his money's good as yours and that's what counts."
"You mean you're going to ditch me for Mascola?"
Blagg dropped his eyes to the planks of the wharf before the girl's steady gaze.
"We don't aim to ditch nobody," he said awkwardly. "But we got to live. The dago's offered us six day straight with double for overtime and Sundays. We ain't decided yet. We waited to give you a chance."
Dickie Lang listened quietly, her eyes roaming among the knots of silent fishermen. Some she noticed stood close and as their spokesman went on, shuffled closer. Others held aloof. When Blagg had concluded, she began to speak in a voice which carried to the detached groups of men standing in the back row.
"I'm not going to say much. But what I do say I want it to sink in. Come up closer all of you where we can see one another."
When the fishermen ranged themselves about her, she looked hard into their weather-beaten faces and went on earnestly: "Boys, you've known me since I was a kid. Most of you knew my dad. If you did, you knew a man. He had to fight hard for a living. But he shot square every foot of the way. Some of you were here when he came."
She singled out a few of the older men and spoke directly to them: "Do you think you'd be here now if it hadn't been for Bill Lang? What were the Russians and Austrians doing to you when he came? You were all down on your uppers and didn't know where your next meal was coming from. Who was it that took up your fight? Who backed you with boats and gear and taught you how to fish so you could hold your own against the outsiders? You know without my telling you."
Some of the older fishermen dropped their eyes to the rough board planks at the girl's words. There was no doubt that Lang had been square. But as Blagg had pointed out, a man had to look out for himself.
"You think that hasn't anything to do with your quitting me to get more money? All right. I'll show you that it has. Let me ask you some questions. What is Mascola paying his own fishermen? Why should he pay you fellows twice that much? Does he think you'll rob more traps, lay round more nets and run more men off the beach with his seine? Why should he pay you six dollars when he can load up with a gang that'll do what he says for three? Is that business?"
She paused and her lips compressed in a straight line as she went on: "You can answer those questions just as well as I can. You know what Mascola's game is. He thinks he's going to put me out of business. He's trying to crowd me off the sea. What do you suppose will become of you if he makes good? How long will you get that six dollars a day with the Lang fleet out of commission? You've been fighting his men for a square deal ever since you came here. And now you're figuring on helping them run you out of your own town."
Blagg noticed that several of the men were falling back and whispering among themselves. Scenting signs of a break among his ranks, he felt it was up to him to say something. Well, he had his trump card yet to play.
"We ain't such fools as you think," he said. "We ain't gone at this thing without considering pretty careful and gettin' good advice. Last night some of us had a meetin' and talked things over. Mr. Rock was there and he give us some mighty good advice. He says to the boys that it was every feller for himself and——"
"Rock's got a mortgage on your house, hasn't he, Joe?"
Blagg flushed beneath his tan.
"I reckon that ain't got nothing to do with it if he has," he challenged. "And you understand I ain't even sayin' he has. But he's a business man."
"And a hypocrite," supplemented Dickie Lang. "Nobody knows that any better than I. He lied to me and tried to flim-flam me out of my boats before my dad was buried a week. If I'd fallen for it he would have had me right where he's got you, Joe. But I didn't. And when he found out I was going to stick to you boys, he called me a fool and said no white man could compete against Mascola's men."