As she paused for breath, Gregory saw Tom Howard hobbling through the crowd, speaking in low tones with the fishermen.
"One minute more and I'm through," the girl concluded. "We're up against a hard fight here at Legonia. A fight for Americans to fish their own waters. Sounds foolish, but you know it's the truth. When my father and Mr. Gregory were drowned off Diablo, Mascola thought he had us beaten. Rock thought so, too. But I'm telling you we're going to fool them both. There's something wrong around here, boys, when we can't get a fifty-fifty break on our own coast. And we're going to find out what it is."
Seeing that she had the ear of the men at last, she walked closer.
"Listen, boys, I've got a big proposition to offer you. One that will beat Mascola's like an ace beats a deuce. Because this one is on the square."
The fishermen crowded closer while she went on:
"You know what we've been up against here for years to get good help. You boys have been working short-handed most of the time. Doing more work than it was up to you to do. I've got a plan now to get all the men you want. Good men too. Fellows who have been tried out, red-blooded men. Fighters! I want you men to train them. Show them how to fish. In a little while they'll be doing all the work and I'll pay you four dollars a day straight time with a dollar a day more if you stick through the season. But better than that I'll give you a share in the profits of not only my own business, but the Legonia Fish Cannery as well."
Gregory gulped. It was Dickie's voice all right. But the words were his own. There was some mistake somewhere. He strove to regain control of his scattered senses as Blagg burst out:
"You're figurin' to start somethin' you can't finish, ain't you? You ain't bought the cannery already, have you?"
"Don't you worry about that, Blagg. I know what I'm talking about. Mr. Gregory and I are partners on this deal."
Blagg was taken back by the girl's announcement. Almost as much so as Gregory himself.
"Suppose there ain't no profits?" put in another fisherman.
"That's your lookout as well as mine." Again the girl took Gregory's words and went on: "But there will be. I'm going to get a bunch of ex-navy men down here that mean business. They won't let Mascola, Rock or anybody else bluff them off the sea. All they want is a chance to learn the game. You boys can teach it to them right."
Blagg stepped back and began to whisper to the men about him. The other fishermen looked at one another and listened for Bill Lang's girl to go on:
"You fellows all know the advantage it gives you to have enough boats and men. If you break down and get into any trouble, it's pretty good to have somebody standing by to give you a hand. And you know that Mascola knows how to make trouble."
Turning to the older men, some of whom had already begun to feel their joints stiffening with rheumatism, she said: "Fishing's a hard game, boys, for the best of us. And it doesn't get any easier as we get older. There's a lot of you who will have to go into dry-dock before long and get patched up. And there's some that can't afford to lay up. You've been working with your hands too long. You've got to ease up and use your brains. That's what I want to hire now. These young fellows are eager to help you. It will be up to you to show them what to do."
Could this be the girl who had angrily announced that she intended to run her business in her own way? Gregory could only stare at Dickie Lang. So far, she had not even included him as being a partner to the idea, save by her pledge of the profits of his cannery. Surely she would explain her sudden change of heart. Listening intently, he heard her conclude:
"Think it over, boys. It's a chance that may never come again. If there are any questions you'd like to ask, shoot."
Blagg noted that her words were having a marked effect upon the silent fishermen. Seeking to stem the tide of the reaction which he felt was setting in against him, he began to make objections.
Dickie Lang met his arguments with painstaking explanations and the objections gradually became fewer, simmering down into more or less intelligent questions. Gregory noticed that the fishermen began to retire and clustered together in little groups while they talked earnestly among themselves. Still there came no explanation from the girl. She was championing his ideas as if they had been her own cherished plans.
At length the various knots of men drew further apart and faced each other in two well-marked divisions. To the left stood Joe Blagg, about him clustering the younger and more radical element of the fishing colony. On the right the property-owners and heads of families for the most part, drew closer to Big Jack Stuss, their acknowledged leader.
Dickie Lang regarded the two factions carefully, striving to count their ranks. Each was about evenly divided, she figured, with Big Jack's constituency slightly in the lead.
Blagg stepped forward and began to speak: "It's six straight for me and mine," he said. "Them's our terms. The boys can't see your new-fangled proposition at all."
"It's up to you," the girl replied coolly. "If that's the way you feel, you can get your money. But before you do, I'd advise you to talk it over at home. Don't forget that I'm fighting for you—not against you. It might be pretty nice to remember some time that you tried to help yourselves. Think it over before you get your checks."
As she finished speaking, Big Jack got slowly under way. Elbowing a path through the crowd he shuffled closer, hitching at the straining suspender to which was entrusted the task of holding in place his two pairs of baggy canvas trousers. Shifting from one bowed knee to the other, he contemplated his great bare toes in silence while he drew in a deep breath which filled his huge lungs to the bursting point and caused the muscles of his neck to stand out in purpled knots.
Dickie waited, knowing full well that it was Big Jack's invariable preface for speech. When the big fisherman had secured enough compression to proceed, he boomed forth in a fog-horn voice:
"Me and my fellers has decided to stick. Youse fellers can count on us if you shoot square. We's willin' to take a chanct."
His sentences were interpolated with great gusts of surplus breath. As he finished speaking he lumbered away to rejoin his companions.
"That's the stuff, boys. It's the way I like to hear men talk. It shows you've got the sand. Take it from me, you'll never be sorry you stuck."
She walked forward and passed familiarly among them while the Blagg faction melted slowly away and straggled down the dock in the direction of the town.
Gregory stood with McCoy while the excitement quieted down and Dickie despatched the fishing-boats on their accustomed morning cruise.
"Well, I'll say you've done wonders," McCoy was saying. "Who would ever have thought that Dick would have given in?"
Gregory nodded weakly. "I was rather surprised myself," he admitted.
McCoy looked at his watch. "I must go," he said. "It's almost time to blow the whistle. Coming up soon?"
Gregory promised to be on hand as soon as he got his breakfast and McCoy hurried off. When the last of her remaining men had left the dock, Gregory noticed the girl coming toward him. Now he would learn the reason for her sudden change of mind. He listened eagerly for the explanation.
Dickie Lang passed a slim brown hand slowly over her forehead and replaced a tousled lock of red-brown hair.
"Now," she said calmly, "when can you get me my men?"
THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
Everything was coming his way. Kenneth Gregory glanced again at his first balance-sheet. The cannery had been in operation but a single month and already the business was exceeding his fondest expectations. He glanced at the chart which hung by his side. Forty-two completely equipped fishing-boats in the water and every one fully manned. He smiled as he thought of Dickie Lang's astonishment at the manner in which the ex-navy men had taken hold of the work.
His smile broadened too as he noted the receipts from the fresh fish and the canned product. Fishing had sure been good. And there had been little or no interference from Mascola. Since the day when Dickie had accepted his proposition all had gone smoothly. Gregory attributed his success to the carrying out of an idea. It had worked. It had to work. And it was his idea.
On the floor of the cannery, Dickie Lang was also analyzing the phenomenal success of the Legonia Fish Cannery while she waited for the owner to accompany her on their daily cruise to the fishing grounds.
"I'll tell you, Jack, it gets my goat how things began to pick up the very minute I threw up my contract. He's had nothing but luck ever since."
"I wouldn't say that, Dick," McCoy objected. "The boss's idea was worth something. Of course I——"
"Oh, rats! I'm sick of hearing everybody talking about an idea. All these fellows in here think that Kenneth Gregory can't make a mistake. They think that nobody else could have done what he did."
"That's what you want fellows to think who are working for you, isn't it?" ventured McCoy.
Dickie gasped. Had McCoy too fallen a victim to hero-worship? McCoy, who had been her loyal friend, and servant? She determined to find out to what extent he had transferred his allegiance.
"Do you think Mr. Gregory did any more than I could have done?" she flashed.
McCoy endeavored to temporize. "Well, in a way he didn't," he said, "and then again he did. You see——"
But Dickie refused to see. Whirling angrily, she walked rapidly toward the office. Anything to get away from hearing Gregory's praises chanted from every lip. Better be with the idol himself than his devout followers. She flung open the door and entered the office. Gregory faced her with a smile. A self-satisfied smile, the girl thought. In his hand was a paper.
"Look at that," he exclaimed. "My idea has worked out a lot better than I anticipated."
Dickie glanced coldly at the sheet but made no effort to take it from his hand. Looking him full in the eye, she observed:
"I'm about caught up with that idea of yours. I don't see that there is anything in it to cause any one to get the swelled-head."
"Who's getting the swelled-head?" demanded Gregory, the smile passing from his face.
"Well, I'm not," retorted the girl, laying special stress on the pronoun. "I've seen too much of this game to have my head turned by a little luck."
Gregory overlooked the implication and admitted soberly:
"Yes, we sure have had luck. There's no denying that. I never had any idea the boys would take to the game the way they have."
"They wouldn't if it hadn't been for my fishermen taking all the trouble they did with them. Why, a lot of those fellows were seasick when they first came down here. They were 'rocking-chair sailors.' My men made them what they are. I don't see any luck in that."
Gregory smiled provokingly.
"No, I don't suppose there was," he said. "What I meant was I was lucky in getting hold of men who really wanted to learn. You've admitted several times that they got along faster than you had any idea they would."
"Anybody could catch fish the way they've been running the last few weeks," evaded Dickie. "I never saw anything like it before. Nearly every boat comes in with a good haul. And when the local market was glutted at Port Angeles, you shot them up north and just tumbled on to a good market as Frisco was out of fish. That was nothing but luck," she challenged.
"And now we have orders for all canned stuff we can turn out," Gregory put in.
"Sure you have. From the Western outfit. I wouldn't trust them out of sight with a case of fish. They'll eat the stuff up as long as you can throw it to them in big lots. That gives them a chance to beat you down on the price. The first bad run of luck you have, they'll drop you cold. I know. They did the same thing with your father the very first time he began to fall down on his output."
"You're not going to fall down." She took the words from his mouth and hurried on: "That is just what I was afraid of. Your luck has gone to your head. You have an idea things are always going to be like this. I know better. And you'll know before you get through. The fish are liable to head out to sea any day."
"You guessed wrong about what I was going to say," Gregory announced. "I was going to tell you I had an order from Winfield & Camby for a shipment of albacore if we can get them out right away. Suppose the fish do run to sea," he went on. "I'll back you to find them if any one can. And we're well equipped now to follow them up."
Dickie was somewhat mollified but she took care not to show it.
"You're not figuring on Mascola either," she began.
"Mascola," Gregory repeated. "Why, he's been decent enough the last two or three weeks."
"I know it," she interrupted. "That's what has me guessing. It isn't like Mascola to be that way. He's been checking up on us right along, but he hasn't bothered any of our boats since he lost the Roma. It's about time he showed his hand."
"We have nearly as many boats as he has now," Gregory observed. "Maybe he thinks——"
Again the girl anticipated his words.
"Get that out of your head," she snapped. "If you think Mascola's quit, you're wrong. The more boats dad got, the harder Mascola fought him. It's only when an outfit gets big enough to make a showing that he begins to get busy."
"We'll have the rest of the cannery boats out the last of the week," Gregory announced. "I'll have the boys rush them. We won't start anything, but just get good and ready. It's Mascola's move. I've made it perfectly clear to all the men that we are not looking for trouble."
Dickie was silent for a moment. Then she said:
"I have an idea that Rock gave Mascola a 'bum steer' and that both of them are just beginning to find out their mistake."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that Rock guessed wrong. He told a lot of people around town when you opened up that you'd be broke in thirty days. He and Mascola are pretty thick and the chances are he told Mascola the same thing and the dago believed him. Now they're beginning to find out they slipped up in not trying to cripple you before you got your men broken in. I've just got a hunch it won't be long before we hear from Mascola. He's bringing more boats in here every day from down the coast and the islands."
Seeing they were getting nowhere by their talk, Gregory tossed the balance sheet to the desk and got to his feet.
"We'd better be on our way," he said.
With Dickie following, he lead the way out into the cannery where he stopped for a moment to speak to McCoy. "I'm going outside for a while, Mac. If the Western people call up, tell them we're shipping the last of those sardines to-day. Sound them out on albacore prices in job lots."
Dickie turned away at the mention of the jobbers. Gregory evidently thought very little of her advice. Biting her lips, she walked to the door to wait on the receiving platform. McCoy watched his employer follow after her. Dick was sore at him. He'd have to go up to the house this evening and try to square himself. She was evidently sore at Gregory, too. And in that thought, McCoy derived some consolation.
With the crisp sea air fanning their faces as they headed out to sea, Dickie's irritability vanished. Desirous of starting conversation after a protracted silence, she began: "Who do you think I saw down-town the other day?"
Gregory could not guess. "I was in the bank," she began after a moment, hoping Gregory would not notice that at times she did frequent Rock's institution. "And that crazy fool, Boris, was in there trying to borrow some money. He's been hanging round town ever since Mascola fired him. When I've seen him he's been drunk on Japanese sake. He has it in for me because all the fishermen kid him about being run on the rocks by a girl. When I stepped back from the teller's window, Boris lunged against me and started to mumble something. But before he had hardly opened his mouth, a well-dressed man came from somewhere and threw him half across the room. And who do you think it was?"
Again Gregory shook his head.
As Gregory voiced his surprise, the girl went on:
"You wouldn't have known him. He was all dolled-up and looked like a different man. He knew me all right and he had the nerve to ask me if he could come to see me," she concluded.
Gregory's dislike of Bandrist increased.
"What did you tell him?" he asked.
"I told him I wasn't any more anxious to receive callers at my home than he was at his."
Gregory wondered if the caustic answer to Bandrist might have been retailed for his own benefit. He reflected suddenly that Dickie Lang had never so much as intimated that he would be a welcome guest at her home. Well, there was no use dwelling on it now. He had never bothered the girl, and never would.
"Bandrist is no ordinary sheep-man," she went on. "And I know it. He's working some kind of a game over there that he doesn't want people to butt in on." She paused abruptly and her eyes narrowed. "I wonder," she began, but left her sentence unfinished as she noticed that Gregory was regarding her curiously.
"What?" he prompted.
"Nothing," she said. "Maybe some day I'll tell you. But not now."
Gregory knew her well enough to know that nothing could be gained by urging. During the silence that fell upon them the minds of both were working in parallel grooves, groping for a way of light to lighten the darkness of an unsolved mystery. When they reached the albacore banks and sighted the vanguard of the fishing fleet, both came back sharply, back from the maze of doubt and intangible suspicions which clouded their brains as the fog had clouded the island that held their thoughts.
Making the rounds of the albacore fishermen the truth of the girl's pessimistic prophecy became strikingly apparent. The fish had undoubtedly taken to sea. Laying-to to check one of the last of the few remaining boats which rode at anchor, Dickie consulted her tally-sheet and shook her head.
"Not much in this," she averred. "It's a losing game so far. And there's only Big Jack with the Albatross yet to hear from. We ought to find him cruising off the seal rocks. He's generally the first out and the last to come in. He never gives up while there's a chance left. I've seen him 'chumming' for albacore all day and then bring in a bunch hours after everybody else had given up."
As they drew near the Albatross she hailed the fisherman: "How are the fish, Jack?"
Big Jack continued throwing the live bait from the tanks into the water. Then he straightened up and hitched at his suspender.
"They're beginnin' to come in like hell," he bellowed.
The fisherman was right. Gregory looked over the rail and gasped with wonderment. The sea about them was literally alive with fish. The lines which flashed over the side of the Albatross scarcely touched the water before the fish struck.
Dickie's eyes snapped at the sight.
"Put her about," she cried to Gregory. "And beat it as fast as you can for home. We'll make a killing if we can just overhaul enough of the boys to get in on the run. Load up, Jack," she called as the vessel swung about. "Cruise up and down and keep 'chumming' so we won't lose them. We're going after the fleet. Pound her for all she'll stand," she instructed Gregory. "Every minute means money."
They had been running only a few minutes when they sighted Mascola's speed-boat astern. The girl frowned as the Fuor d'Italia roared by in a swirl of white water.
"This is where speed counts," she exclaimed. "If Mascola tumbles on to Big Jack he'll have his gang around the Albatross before we can get within hailing distance of our nearest boat."
Gregory watched the rapidly disappearing speed-boat anxiously. It was on his tongue to tell the girl of the launch Joe Barrows was building for him at Port Angeles, a craft which the boat-builder guaranteed in the contract would beat the boat he had built for the Italian.
"Keeping in close touch is everything in this business," Dickie observed. "Fish come in bunches. The ocean's spotted like a checker-board. You may have one boat loading up and another right around the next point doing nothing. That's where Mascola wins out," she exclaimed. "He scouts round and tips his fleet off if you've anything good. Then they're down on you like a flock of gulls."
Before they caught up with the stragglers of the cannery fleet they sighted the alien fishing-boats coming in their direction. Dickie's brow was overcast.
"Just what I was afraid of," she cried. "He's tipped them off. We're going to lose a lot to-day on account of not being able to keep closer together and being shy on a fast boat. You might as well get the idea of filling that albacore order out of your head right now."
As they overhauled the cannery boats and headed them back to the seal rocks, Gregory considered the girl's words about keeping in closer touch. If he was going to beat Mascola, he'd have to get there first. The speed-launch which Barrows was building for him would serve as a signal boat, but even that would not serve to keep the other boats in constant touch with one another. Before they reached the last of the available boats they met Mascola coming back. While the girl stormed at their helplessness to cope with the situation, Gregory spoke in monosyllables and wrestled with his problem.
He considered the methods of communication employed by the army in connecting the various units. One by one he discarded them. The semaphore would serve only for short distances and then only when the boats were within sight of each other. The same argument would apply against the wig-wag. The heliograph would be useless in stormy weather or in fog. A fast launch would help out, but even that would not completely solve the difficulty. How did boats keep in touch with one another? The answer came at once. Why hadn't he thought of it before?
When they came in sight of the seal rocks they saw the masts of the two fleets clustered thickly about the Albatross.
"Look at that," snapped the girl. "Now, maybe you'll believe I know what I'm talking about. We were asleep and Mascola's beat us to it. It won't take him long to fish them out with an outfit like that. He's got our boats on the outside now, taking what's left."
Gregory saw that she was right. Mascola's boats were crowded closely about the Albatross and his own fleet was completely fenced off.
"What did I tell you? He's got them already. Look! He's ready to move. While we've been crawling along in this old tub, he's cleaned up."
The alien fleet began to get under way as she spoke and headed about. Darting past his boats came Mascola. Noting the tardy arrival of the oncoming launch, he made straight for them. Slowing down, he drifted by with his white teeth flashing in an insolent smile. Then he opened the throttle and the Fuor d'Italia leaped forward and raced away with an angry roar.
When they reached the Albatross, Big Jack was apoplectic with rage. It was some minutes before he could master his speech sufficiently to explain the situation. Mascola had arrived when they were hardly out of sight, had watched them pulling in the fish and had gone at once to summon his boats. The aliens had come upon him from around the point in ever-increasing numbers. Had hedged him and taken his school. When the cannery boats arrived the albacore quit biting and took to other waters.
Dickie Lang issued orders for the return of the fleet to Legonia. Then she vented her wrath on Kenneth Gregory.
"So you thought you had Mascola beaten, did you? What did I tell you? Didn't I say he'd come back at the first chance? Albacore fishing is where he's always been strong. And that's about all there is from now on. We've got to come alive and forget these ideas and get down to brass tacks. Mascola beat us hands down and we couldn't lift a finger to stop him. What are you going to do about it? That's what I want to know."
Gregory curbed his rising anger and answered quietly:
"Before I tell you what I'm going to do, I'd like to ask you a question. What could we have done legally to break through Mascola's fence?"
"Nothing. That's where he had us. He got there first. To get in to the fish we'd have had to ram his boats and he'd have you up before the local inspectors in no time if you had done that. If he had laid his nets around ours it would have been different. You could demand sea-way and run through them if he didn't move. But this way he had us over a barrel. And he knew it. It's a trick no white man would do. But I guess even you will admit now that there isn't a drop of white blood in that dago's body."
"Then about the only way we could have beaten him," pursued Gregory, "would have been to have got there first and covered our own boats. Is that right?"
"Yes. But that is not so easy as it sounds."
"It is not so hard either," Gregory went on. "I have an idea that I think will work out all right."
Dickie's eyes flashed.
"Forget your ideas!" she snapped. "You've got to have a whole lot more than ideas when you start out to beat Mascola."
Gregory felt his patience oozing from him at her words. It was bad enough to lose an order from a firm he hoped to get in strong with, without the girl rubbing it in.
"You haven't done anything yet but find fault," he said. "You have been at this game a lot longer than I have. Maybe you have something to suggest."
Something in his voice caused Dickie to quiet down. She began to cast about in her mind for an answer.
"You've got to keep your boats in closer touch," she began. "So Mascola can't work this same deal on us again."
"That is exactly what I am going to do."
"You'll have to show me."
"I will. I'm going to show you and Mascola both. By wireless."
Before she could interrupt, he hurried on: "Listen. Half of these navy men know the International code. The others can learn easy enough with some one to teach them who has worked at a radio key. I have several who have done that and can rig the sets."
"You must think you're a millionaire. You aren't running a line of steamships. Come down to——"
"The sets won't cost much," Gregory went on calmly. "If they did all these kids along the shore wouldn't have them. A fifty or one-hundred-mile radius would be enough for us. And it wouldn't take them long to pay for themselves. If we had had the boats equipped with radio outfits to-day we could have beaten Mascola at his own game. When Big Jack 'chummed' up the albacore the rest of our boats would have known it before Mascola got there. The fish he caught to-day would pay for quite a few sets."
"It would pay for itself in another way if it would work," supplemented Dickie, much to Gregory's surprise. "Lots of times a boat breaks down and drifts on to a reef. If she could get word to some one close by they could take her in tow or even pull her off before she was hurt much."
Discussing the pros and cons of the new idea, they took their way toward Legonia. When they arrived at the Lang wharf the girl grudgingly admitted that the plan might work. At least it might justify a trial. Leaving Dickie at her own dock Gregory was about to proceed up the bay to the cannery wharf when she came over to the rail and exclaimed in a low voice:
"Oh, yes. Another thing. I didn't have a chance to look at that statement you had this morning. If you're not too busy to-night, you might bring it up to the house."
BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
Alone in his little room in the fish cannery Kenneth Gregory found himself confronted by a new and unexpected problem. A hurried glance at his watch only served to aggravate the tense lines which creased his forehead. It was seven-thirty already. He was due at the Lang residence at eight. And what was he going to wear?
The seriousness of the situation became painfully apparent as he pawed over his wardrobe. His pre-war clothes had served nicely to wear about the cannery. But they were hopelessly out of style. Why hadn't he taken the time to have had something decent made in Port Angeles instead of taking the first thing in 'hand-me-downs' which the salesman had offered? He surveyed the suit ruefully. Then he reflected that his errand was purely one of business and hastily donned the garments.
A nasty fit, he admitted to himself, as he looked into the mirror. He'd like to get his hands on the man who talked him into it. He looked at his shoes. They too caused him a commensurate amount of worry. Built on lines of comfort they displayed a total disregard of fashion. The longer he examined his attire the more conscious he became of its defects. Turning from the glass he walked with disgust from the room.
The moon was shining bright when Gregory reached the Lang cottage. Pausing on the graveled walk to reef in his vest, he walked up the steps and fumbled about for the bell.
Dickie welcomed him at the door.
"I hardly knew you in those clothes," she began. "They do make a difference, don't they?"
Gregory pulled his coat closer about him and agreed that they did. Then he noticed that the girl had discarded her man's attire and was clothed in a plain white dress. In the light of the little hallway her hair gleamed like dull gold.
She led the way into a small living-room upon the floor of which a number of vari-colored rag rugs were scattered about. By a big sewing table sat a little woman in black. A light shawl draped her shoulders and a white cap covered her gray-threaded hair. At their entrance she laid aside her knitting and smiled.
"This is Mr. Gregory, Aunt Mary," Dickie announced in a loud voice. To Gregory she added: "Miss Lang, my father's sister. She is very hard of hearing."
Gregory bowed as he took the hand Miss Lang extended.
"I'm glad to know you," she said. "Real glad. Your father was one of my few friends. We enjoyed many pleasant games of checkers together."
Her keen gray eyes appraised him while she spoke and under the frankness of her stare, Gregory felt his coat collar slowly pulling away from his neck. Passing a hand nervously to the lapel he jerked the garment into place while he responded to her greeting.
"Richard all over again," announced Miss Lang when she had finished her inspection. "The same eyes, the square chin. Even the same nervous manner of hitching at your clothes."
"Aunt Mary!" Dickie expostulated. "You're too personal. You——"
But Miss Lang went on with a smile which put her guest wholly at his ease: "You won't mind what an old lady like me says, I'm sure. I always told your father just what I thought. And I'm going to do the same with you."
Gregory listened attentively while she told him of her first meeting with his father. While she spoke his eyes traveled curiously to the high-backed organ and the what-not beyond. Richard Gregory had described the Lang home as a model of neatness and old-fashioned charm. His son went further. The room possessed a personality. It was not only livable but lovable as well. The very atmosphere breathed a benediction.
"Do you play checkers?"
Miss Lang's voice recalled Gregory to himself. He shook his head.
"I'm sorry," he began.
"No you're not," put in Dickie quietly. "You're lucky. Don't ever learn. Aunt Mary never gave your father a chance to say a word. She had her board out when she heard him in the hall."
A knock on the front door interrupted Miss Lang's request for her checker-board and Dickie hurried out.
"I can teach you in no time," Aunt Mary was saying. But Gregory was listening to the sound of a man's voice in the hallway. Then came the girl's laugh.
"I wasn't angry at all, Jack. Just cranky. But I'm glad you came up just the same and thanks for the candy."
She reentered the room followed by McCoy. McCoy stopped with surprise as he caught sight of Gregory. Nodding casually, he went over to greet Miss Lang.
Aunt Mary welcomed McCoy warmly. Then she addressed her niece.
"Bring us the board, Josephine. Kenneth can watch and I'll explain the game as we go along."
McCoy sank into a chair and passed a hand wearily over his eyes.
"I have a headache," he shouted. "Don't think I'd better play to-night."
"You've been working too hard," Aunt Mary retorted. "Nothing like a good game of checkers for relaxation."
Dickie was already on her way for the board. As she passed Gregory he saw that her eyes were sparkling.
"That's right, Jack," she called back. "Leave it to Aunt Mary to prescribe for your headache. She knows."
As McCoy drew up to the board Gregory noticed that he was attired in close-fitting clothes of ultra-fashionable cut. As he saw McCoy look him over he became ill at ease and moved his chair farther from the light. Dickie sensed his embarrassment and noting that neither man appeared to enjoy himself, strove to make her guests feel more at home. Both men she knew were vitally interested in the operation of the cannery. And Gregory, at her request, had brought up the balance-sheet. A discussion of business affairs would relieve the situation and at the same time rescue McCoy from Aunt Mary's checker-board. The rapid termination of the first game gave her a chance to interrupt.
"I asked Mr. Gregory to bring up a business statement to-night, Aunt Mary; you'd like to see it, wouldn't you? I know Jack would."
Miss Lang nodded and promptly laid aside the board.
"Very much," she answered. "I've always been interested in that business and I understand this young man is making it pay."
McCoy heaved a sigh of relief to learn it was merely business which had brought Gregory to see Dickie Lang.
At the girl's reference to the object of his errand, Gregory unbuttoned his coat and delved into his pocket for the paper. He must have put it in his vest. Again his fingers failed to find the missing document. He became conscious of a prickly sensation creeping slowly over his flesh. Where had he left that darned paper anyway? Suddenly he remembered. In his mortification over his attire he had left the statement lying on his dresser. He looked up to meet all eyes fixed expectantly upon him. Then he leaned back in his chair and tried to smile.
"I guess the joke's on me," he said. "I came away in such a hurry I forgot it."
Dickie laughed at his discomfiture until the tears shone in her eyes, while McCoy regarded his employer with suspicion. Aunt Mary finished polishing her spectacles and settled back to listen.
"I'm all ready to hear it," she announced. "Perhaps you had better come nearer so you will not have to speak so loud."
Dickie came to Gregory's rescue and explained the situation to her aunt. Then she added in a low voice:
"You must have been stung by another of those ideas of yours."
During the remainder of his visit Kenneth Gregory was content to remain in the background. McCoy made a few efforts at conversation as he noted Aunt Mary's eyes roving longingly in the direction of the checker-board. Then Miss Lang, much to every one's relief, began to monopolize the conversation. Beckoning Gregory closer, she said:
"I want to give you just one bit of advice though I don't suppose you'll heed it coming from an old lady like me."
As Gregory encouraged her to go on, she exclaimed:
"Stay away from Diablo Island." Seeing that she had aroused his interest, she went on: "You're going to ask me why, and I'll have to answer that I don't know except that it is a dangerous place and has been the cause of a number of strange accidents during the past few years. I used to warn my brother to stay away from there. He only laughed at my fears—at first. When he lost the Kingfisher at El Diablo he called it bad luck. Any boat was liable to be run down, he said. Then came the wreck of the Crane off the south coast of the island and not a body ever recovered."
"Aunt Mary thinks there's ghosts and everything else at Diablo," Dickie whispered. "If you give her any encouragement, she's as bad as my fishermen."
Gregory noticed that although the girl's words were intended to ridicule the idea, the expression of her face showed that her aunt's words were not regarded by her in the light of idle gossip.
"For a time after that," Miss Lang continued, "my brother stayed away from Diablo. When fish were scarce he went back. He hadn't had his nets out a week before he lost them all. No one ever knew what became of them. Will was getting worried though he tried not to show it. He was about ready to give it up when your father bought the cannery and came to Legonia. For a while after that fishing was good everywhere. As long as they stayed away from that accursed island things went well. But they were not satisfied. So they sent the Eagle over there. The last they heard of her she was anchored in Northwest Harbor."
The room grew very still as the old lady continued:
"That worried them. Because they could not find out what became of her. The fishermen began to refuse to go there and I thanked God it was all over. Then one night Will and your father went out to Diablo in the Gull. Why they went, heaven only will ever know."
She rose slowly and walked to the door.
"She won't sleep a wink to-night," exclaimed Dickie as the door closed on her aunt. "I must look after her."
When the girl returned a few minutes later she found Gregory and McCoy discussing business. Gregory remained on his feet at her entrance.
"I must be going," he said. "I have a lot of work to do."
Bidding McCoy good night, he followed Dickie to the hall.
"I'm glad you came up even if you did forget the balance-sheet. Come up again any time you're not too busy."
With the girl's words in his ears, Gregory walked into the moonlight. The evening had not been a complete failure after all. As he turned his steps in the direction of the town his mind was wholly engrossed with the events of the past two hours. How Aunt Mary did hate Diablo. Had the girl noticed how badly his clothes fit him in comparison with McCoy's? Why had Jack appeared so grouchy?
He stopped short in his descent of the hill road as he saw a man walking unsteadily toward him. Moving to one side he watched the drunken fisherman stumble on, heard the low mumbling of his voice. Then the moonlight fell full upon the man's face.
It was Boris, the crazy Russian.
THE BAITED PAWN
Of all the many saloons that made up Legonia's water-front the "Red Paint" was the favorite resort among the alien fishermen. The universal popularity of the establishment was due mainly to three causes. The boss owned the place and paid off there between moons. Credit was freely given to all fishermen in good standing, and thirdly, Mascola's emporium enjoyed full police protection.
During the evening when Gregory made his first call at the Lang hill the tide of revelry at the "Red Paint" was at the flood. It was pay-day and the boss was in high good humor. Either occurrence was always good for a number of rounds of free drinks. But when Mascola was happy on pay-day, the liberality of the "Red Paint" was indeed prodigal.
And Mascola was happy. Within the frosted glass enclosure that marked off his saloon-office from the bar, the Italian sat at his desk in a genial glow of good humor. The glow was purely physical, superinduced by the rapidly disappearing contents of the slim-nosed bottle which stood at his elbow. The good humor was due to other causes.
As he re-filled his glass, Mascola smiled. It hadn't been such a bad day at that. He'd showed somebody something about albacore fishing. And he'd show them a lot more before he got through. Things were coming his way too from other sources. He took out his leather wallet and ran over a number of bills of high denomination. Then he took another drink and smiled at the ceiling. It had been such easy money. Much easier than fishing.
A knock sounded at the street-door. Mascola shoved the wallet again into his pocket and hastily removed his bottle of Amontillado.
"Come in," he called.
Boris entered, clumsily filling the doorway with his great bulk and bringing with him a strong odor of garlic and Jap sake. For a moment he stood on the threshold, blinking stupidly. Then he pulled the door closed with a bang.
Mascola's eyes grew hard as he dropped his hand into a drawer of his desk which stood open.
"Stay where you are," he commanded. "What do you want?"
"Job," muttered the Russian thickly.
Mascola shook his head and an annoyed frown darkened his brow. "Go home," he said. "You're drunk. You're no good. I fired you. Don't want to talk."
Boris made no move to comply with his order. His small eyes roved restlessly about the room for a moment, then came to rest on the Italian.
"Boys making fool with me all time," he said. "Say I can no lick woman. I get damn mad. You give me job. I show you."
Mascola shook his head. Leaning closer to the swaying figure, he said in a low voice: "Show me first."
Boris's face became purple with rage as the import of Mascola's answer filtered into his thick skull. He clenched his huge hands and raised them above his head, mumbling all the while in his own tongue. Then his arms fell to his sides and his pig-like eyes gleamed with belated comprehension. Licking his dry lips, he said: "Give me drink. I show you to-night."
The Italian slipped a hand into his pocket and tossed him a two-dollar bill. Stumbling to the door the Russian found Mascola close by his side.
"Wait," he commanded. "Sit down. There."
He pointed to a chair screened from the street entrance by a large steel safe. When Boris had deposited his great bulk therein, Mascola walked to the door and looked up and down the street. Then he returned and grasped the Russian by the arm.
"Go," he said. As Boris reached the door he shoved him out with the whisper:
"Don't forget. You've got to show me."
Joe Blagg was among the last of Mascola's men to come for his money. And though he said nothing when he signed the pay-roll, Blagg nursed a grouch against his employer. Mascola had cursed him out that morning and no livin' dago could do that. He'd get square, or his name wasn't Joe Blagg.
The bartender shoved a black bottle toward him as he pocketed his money. "Boss's treat," he announced.
Blagg's animosity thawed sufficiently to permit him to accept the proffered drink, then flared again under the influence of the fiery liquor. He called for another and gulped it down. Then Mascola's whisky began to talk. He'd make the dago eat his words. That's what he'd do. Two more drinks and he decided to have it out with Mascola at once.
"Where's boss?" he inquired thickly.
The bartender jerked his shorn head in the direction of the frosted glass enclosure.
Blagg drew back, his ardor somewhat chilled to find his quarry so near. Perhaps it was better to figure out just what he was going to say before he tackled the boss. Deciding that he could plan better in the open air, he walked unsteadily to the swinging doors and staggered across the street. There he leaned against the bulkhead and looked back at the Red Paint.
A flash of light illumined the side-walk in front of the saloon office and Blagg saw Mascola's figure silhouetted in the open doorway. He was looking up and down the street. As the fisherman drew back into the shadow the Italian disappeared to return a moment later shoving a burly figure before him.
Blagg became even more discreet as he recognized Mascola's guest. Boris was a bigger man by far than himself. And yet Mascola was putting him out with no trouble at all. The observation had a sobering effect upon the fisherman. His militant air changed quickly to one of craft. He'd quit the boss and pull a lot of the boys along with him. He could hit the dago better that way. They were all pretty sore at being bossed around by a "furrinor" anyway. And work was plenty up around Frisco. He'd round up a bunch of the boys right away.
With that idea in view he walked along the water-front and turned again to the row of saloons. Then he noticed that Boris was lurching along ahead of him. He saw the Russian push open the door of the "Buffalo" and heard the derisive roar from within which greeted his entrance. Scenting amusement at Boris's expense, Blagg followed. When he elbowed his way through the press of fishermen who thronged the "Buffalo" bar, he saw the Russian surrounded by a jeering crowd.
"Got a job yet, Boris?" some one called.
"He's workin' for the Lang girl now," put in another.
Boris snarled and, flinging his tormentors away from him, made his way to the bar, jabbering excitedly in Russian to Pete Ankovitch.
Blagg moved nearer.
"What's he sayin', Pete?" he asked.
"He say everybody go to hell," he interpreted. "He say he show Mascola he ain't 'fraid of no woman."
Blagg strove to focus his mind on the Russian's words. Boris was sore as a boiled oil, crazy as a coot. And he had it in for the Lang girl for causing him to get the can. The Russian's reference to Mascola caused the furrows in Blagg's brow to deepen. Both of them were sore at the girl. Were they framing up? If they were he'd block the boss's game. He'd wise her. She'd always shot straight enough with him anyway, and he was a fool to have ever quit her. If Mascola was baiting the Russian to pull off some dirty work he'd——
Blagg paused in his tentative plans for outwitting Mascola as his eye fell on Neilson. There was the man he wanted to see. Swan could swing the Swedes into quitting the dago. All thought of Boris vanished from Blagg's mind as he drew Neilson aside and conferred confidentially with the big Swede in a drunken whisper. When he looked about for the Russian some time later, Boris was gone.
Blagg drained the contents of his last glass with a wry face, and walked unsteadily to the door. Colliding with a man on the sidewalk, he regained his poise by leaning heavily against a sandwich sign-board.
"Hello, Blagg. Seen any of my men inside?"
Blagg shoved back his cap and eyed the speaker with drunken suspicion. When he recognized the cannery owner, a furtive light crept into his eyes and he beckoned Gregory closer. Gregory noted the mysterious mien and promptly credited it to the man's state of intoxication. He was on the point of hurrying on when Blagg's words stayed him.
"Tell Lang girl t' look out for 'self."
"What do you mean?"
Gregory grasped him by the arm and whirled him about.
"Was in s'loon," Blagg muttered, striving to focus his bleary eyes upon his auditor. "Damn Russian there, too. Boys's kiddin' him an' Boris tol' 'em he was't 'fraid no woman. Said he'd show 'em."
"Does he live over there?" Gregory asked quickly, pointing toward the Lang hill.
Blagg shook his head and nodded in the opposite direction.
"Down there," he corrected. "Think he——"
But Gregory did not wait to hear what Blagg thought.
Blagg looked after him stupidly. He had had no time to speak of his hatred or suspicion of Mascola. But he'd show the dago yet.
A crowd of fishermen lumbered along the sidewalk toward him, talking excitedly. Leaning against the sign-board, Blagg was able to gather from their conversation that a fight had just occurred at the Red Paint. Some one had tried to get square with the boss and Mascola had knifed him.
Cold sweat broke out on Joe Blagg's forehead. To his whirling brain came other instances he had heard of how Mascola always got square with those who opposed him. Blagg's whiskyfied courage began to ooze. Perhaps he had gone too far. Suppose Neilson, with a desire to get in strong with the boss, should tell Mascola that he, Joe Blagg, was trying to start a strike among the alien fishermen? And a Swede liked to talk too. Why not get out of town for a while till the thing blew over? He wasn't afraid of the dago and his whole crowd. But what was the use of starting a row? Besides he was ready to move anyway. He reflected suddenly that the midnight train for Frisco stopped at Legonia on signal. That would give him time to throw his stuff together. He had already drawn his money. Why not hit the grit?
* * * * *
As Jack McCoy took his way down the hillside he was acutely conscious of the fact that the evening had been a distinct disappointment. Why was Gregory there anyway? That talk about his forgetting his papers sounded mighty thin. How many times had the boss been there before? What was the matter with Dick to-night? She acted kind of funny, didn't seem to care whether he stayed any longer or not.
McCoy stopped by the roadside as he caught sight of a man running hastily along one of the streets leading from the town. Whoever the fellow was he was sure in a hurry the way he was cutting 'cross lots. As the runner came under the rays of the corner arc-light, McCoy started and peered intently after the departing figure.
It sure looked like Gregory. And he was angling in the direction of the Lang hill. The idea clung tenaciously. When he reached his rooming-house it became an obsession. He decided to find out if the runner could have been his employer. Calling up the cannery it was some time before a sleepy voice answered his summons.
"Boss ain't here. Went out at eight and ain't been back since. Want to leave message?"
McCoy snapped up the receiver and walked slowly into his room. So it was Gregory. Where had he been going at this time of night? And on the run, too. The forgetting of the paper was only a frame-up. Dick had acted funny. Now he knew it was because she wanted to get rid of him.
He sat on the bed, making no effort to remove his clothes. You're a poor fish, something whispered. Why don't you go and find out if they're double-crossing you? McCoy tried not to listen. For a long time he stared moodily at the floor. Then he rose and threw off his coat. Hastily replaced it and hurried to the door. He was ashamed of his suspicions. But he simply had to find out.
* * * * *
There was a light still burning in the Lang cottage when Gregory turned into the walk. Perhaps he was foolish to have returned. Still it would do no harm to warn the girl.
As he went up the steps he saw Miss Lang walking up and down the little hall. Tapping loudly, he summoned her to the door.
"Could I speak to Miss Dickie a moment?" he shouted. "It is something important."
Aunt Mary came out on the porch.
"If you wait a moment," she said, "my niece will be back. She left some time ago to take some medicine over to one of our neighbor's sick babies."
Gregory's fears multiplied.
"Where did she go?"
"To the Swanson place just over the hill. It's the first place you'll come to before you reach the Russian Valley."
"I'll go meet her."
He turned quickly and hurried down the path.
Reaching the brow of the hill, he saw the lights of the Swanson cottage and slowed down to a walk. His fears for the girl's safety were apparently groundless. The valley lay before him, steeped in moonlight. No sound disturbed the stillness save the far-off cry of the screaming gulls and the monotonous murmur of the distant sea. Walking slowly down the road, grown high on both sides with sage and cactus, he caught a glimpse of a bulky figure in the path ahead.
Looking again to the cottage only a few hundred yards down the road, Gregory saw the light flash out from an open door. For a moment it shone brightly, then disappeared.
As the man in the roadway heard the sound of footsteps behind him, he stepped quickly to the brush and faced about. Keeping well in the center of the path, Gregory went steadily on with his eyes fixed upon the clump of sage which sheltered the disappearing figure. It was Boris, without a doubt. No other man about Legonia possessed the giant proportions of the big Russian.
Boris glared sullenly from the brush as he saw the advancing figure hesitate and turn toward him. Then he recognized the young cannery owner. What chance would he have to show Mascola now? The intruder threatened the defeat of his cherished plans. The girl he sought was coming up the hill. A few minutes more and——
"What do you want, Boris?"
The Russian's answer to Gregory's question came in a guttural snarl as he staggered from the sage and flung himself upon the speaker.
THE FANGS OF MASCOLA
Gregory leaped nimbly beyond reach of the Russian's waving arms and placed his back to the moonlight. Meeting the fisherman's blind rush with a quick blow to his heavy jaw, he sidestepped and struck again. Boris blocked the fist with a sweep of his long arm and clinched. For an instant the bodies of the two men rocked in the gripping power of the embrace. Then they fell to the roadway.
* * * * *
Dickie Lang stopped suddenly as she saw the struggling figures in the path. A fight between two drunken fishermen was the commonest thing in Legonia. She'd better not get mixed up in it. They were not her men. She knew that. None of her fisherman lived up here but Swanson, and the Swede she knew was at home. Making a wide detour through the brush which carried her beyond sight of the scuffle, she hurried on.
* * * * *
"Where's Dick, Aunt Mary?"
There was a note in Jack McCoy's voice which made Miss Lang regard him sharply before replying:
"She's gone down to Swanson's, John. One of the babies was sick."
"Has Mr. Gregory been back since I left? I'm looking for him."
McCoy was ashamed of the question. Still it was better to find out from Aunt Mary than to try to explain to her niece.
"Yes. He left only a few minutes ago. He inquired for Josephine and when I told him where she had gone, he said he would go to meet her."
Shaking his head weakly at Aunt Mary's question if anything was wrong, McCoy turned slowly and walked down the path. Everything was wrong. Dick had ditched him for Gregory. They'd framed it to get him out of the way. Well, it was a cinch he wouldn't butt in. His reflections were cut short by the sight of a white figure walking toward him.
"Hello, Jack. What's the matter?"
McCoy stared. Dickie Lang was alone.
"I'm looking for Mr. Gregory," he faltered.
"Haven't seen him since he left the house."
The girl was by his side, looking anxiously into his face.
"Anything wrong, Jack?" she asked quickly.
McCoy shook his head.
"No," he said. "I just wanted to talk to him about changing the pack in the morning. Your aunt told me he came back and went to meet you."
Dickie's surprise entered into her voice as she said:
"That's funny. I walked all the way from Swanson's and I didn't meet him."
As she ceased speaking came a sharp remembrance of the two figures battling in the roadway. Could one of them have been Kenneth Gregory? She expressed her fears to McCoy.
McCoy started at once for the hill.
"Go back to the house, Dick," he called back. "I'll go down there and see what's the trouble."
Dickie followed after him.
"I'm going too," she said. "I should have gone back and told Swanson or——"
Her words were interrupted by the sharp report of a gun from over the hill.
McCoy broke into a run.
"Go back," he cried. "Hurry. Get your gun. I'm going on."
* * * * *
Boris looked stupidly into the white face of Kenneth Gregory as he knelt over him. Then he staggered to his feet and looked up and down the road. As the possible consequences of his act began to filter through his consciousness, he jumped to cover in the brush and ran down the ravine in the direction of Russian valley.
When Dickie Lang reached the spot where she had seen the men fighting in the roadway, she found Jack McCoy bending over the sprawling figure of Kenneth Gregory.
"Is he dead?"
McCoy shook his head.
"The bullet went into his side," he said. "He's losing a lot of blood but he's still conscious. Run down to Swanson's and phone for the doctor. Then have Bill come and help me move him."
While McCoy worked to staunch the flow of blood, the girl ran to carry out his orders. Remorse gripped her heart as she raced down the hill. She should have gone to Gregory's aid. She might have done something. At least she could have discovered the identity of his assailant. If she had gone at once for Swanson, he might have arrived in time to prevent the shot.
When she reached the house she roused the Swede and rushed to the telephone, giving hasty instructions to the fisherman to take a couple of oars and a blanket and go at once to McCoy's assistance. After an interminable period of waiting she was able to get in communication with Doctor Kent. Instructing the physician to come at once to the Lang cottage, she hurried away. On her way up the hill she met McCoy and Swanson carrying Gregory on the improvised stretcher.
"Where are you going?" she cried.
The Swede started to explain. His house was closest and they were quite welcome to bring the injured man there.
The girl objected with decisive emphasis.
"I've already told the doctor to come to our house. Aunt Mary is the best nurse in the country. Besides, Bill, you have your hands full to-night with Hulda."
* * * * *
Mascola paused on the threshold of his office at the Red Paint with his key grating in the lock. Then he placed his back to the brick wall and drew his knife as he saw a bulky figure coming toward him.
"Stop where you are," he exclaimed sharply. "What do you want?"
Boris lunged forward and Mascola caught him roughly by the arm.
"Get out, damn you," he cried. "I told you to beat it."
"Tried to get girl," Boris panted. "Gregory man there too. I kill him."
Mascola looked hastily about. When Boris had ceased mumbling, the Italian ordered after a moment's consideration: "Shut up. Go down to my dock the back way. Get on the Lura. Wait there for me."
As the Russian slouched down the street, Mascola reopened his door and went into his office. Then he got Ankovitch on the phone.
"Come down to the boat right away," he ordered. "I want you to get right out."
* * * * *
Day was breaking when McCoy stood with Dickie Lang on the steps of the Lang cottage. The bullet had been found and removed. Kenneth Gregory was resting as well as could be expected. There was danger only through blood-poisoning. The patient was young and strong and should recover. The doctor from Centerville had just left after agreeing with the local physician's diagnosis.
"And now," McCoy was saying, "as there is nothing more I can do here I'll go back to town. It will sure be up to me from now on."
Dickie put a hand on his arm and looked earnestly into his eyes.
"It will be up to both of us, Jack. We've simply got to keep things going for him. I might have saved him. Now it's up to me to make good."
As McCoy walked homeward through the brightening light, he strove to consider the events of the night in their proper sequence, but his brain rioted in a jumble of confused impressions. He owed Kenneth Gregory an apology. Now that the boss was down and out it was up to every one to do their level-darnedest. He'd see that they did, too. He was sorry it had all happened. Sorry that he had doubted. Sorry too for other things which he would not admit, even to himself. And down in the bottom of his heart, loyal though it was, Jack McCoy was sorry that Kenneth Gregory had not been taken to Swanson's.
THE COST OF DEFEAT
There are periods in every one's life when the standard measurements of time are hopelessly inadequate fittingly to express its passing. Minutes may creep, or they may fly. An hour stretches into a day or a day contracts into an hour directly at the will of circumstance.
Kenneth Gregory found this to be true during his period of convalescence at the Lang cottage. As the days went by he found himself devising a simpler method for keeping track of time. There were hours when Dickie Lang was with him, and hours when she was not.
His moments with the girl were always too short. And he was surprised to find that they never appeared to lengthen. His interest in Dickie, he told himself, was purely impersonal. She told him of just the things he desired to hear most about. Kept him in touch with his world. Brought him news each day from the cannery; the business for which he hungered and fretted during each minute of his idle hours.
It was Dickie Lang who had told him of the search which had been made for Boris, a search which had ended in failure. The Russian had fled, leaving no trace of his whereabouts. Blagg also was missing, so nothing further could be learned from that source. Gossip had been rife in the fishing village over the sudden disappearance of the two men. Then the matter was apparently forgotten, giving place to the excitement caused by the installation of the first radio-set on one of the cannery fishing fleet.
Gregory, who had given orders for a trial equipment before the accident, was elated to learn from the girl that the innovation was proving a distinct success. Other sets were installed and the practicability of the new idea was demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt. To quote the girl, all she had to do was to "spot the fish, click out the signal and the cannery boats would be round her like a flock of gulls."
Mascola, she told Gregory, had regarded the new departure, at the outset, as something of a joke. Rock too had ridiculed the idea openly. But when the cannery fleet got fish while the Italian's boats came in but scantily-laden, Mascola's laugh changed to a scowl and Rock's flabby forehead was creased with worried lines.
With the aid of the radio the "patchy" schools along the coast had been fished to good advantage while Mascola's fleet were forced to cruise as far as Diablo and San Anselmo in order to obtain fish enough to supply the rival cannery.
From McCoy's occasional visits Gregory had learned that the plant was running to its full capacity. Upon the subject, however, of sales and orders, the house-manager was extremely reticent.
So it was that Gregory passed the long days of his confinement, rejoicing with Dickie Lang over the growing success of the outside end and worrying over McCoy's evasion when he was questioned concerning the disposition of the finished product. And all the while longing for the time to come when he would be permitted to get back into the harness.
"There's no use letting you go with instructions to take it easy," Doctor Kent had said. "I know your kind. When I turn you out I want you to be going strong."
In that opinion, Aunt Mary concurred. But the time came at last when Gregory was permitted to leave the Lang cottage and return to the cannery. Fearing a reversal of the verdict rendered in his favor, he set out at once. At some distance from the cannery he stopped and inhaled the fish-laden atmosphere with a singing heart. Once, he remembered, the odor had sickened him. Now it came like a breath from Heaven. It stirred his soul, quickened his pulse. He sucked in the tinctured air greedily. It was life itself. A life that was full and free, teeming with opportunity, filled with work and fight.
"Long on fish, but short on sales."
Gregory expressed the state of his business with blunt accuracy as he stood with McCoy in the crowded warehouse.
McCoy admitted the truth of the owner's statement.
"We didn't want to worry you while you were sick," he explained, "but you can see just where we stand. Something has sure gone wrong with the selling end. Dick's getting the fish. I'm canning them. But we can't sell them."
"What's the matter with the Western people?" Gregory asked quickly. "I thought they were strong for us."
McCoy shrugged. "So did I," he answered. "But a few days after you got hurt they quit us cold with no explanation. When we fell down on that first big order of albacore, Winfield & Camby lost interest and I haven't been able to get a flutter out of them since. The other dealers seem to be afraid of us for some reason. They come down and look us over, but that is all."
McCoy scowled at the huge stacks of shining tins and shook his head. "It's got me," he admitted. "We're putting out a first-class article but we can't unload it. I've got a hunch somebody's plugging against us." Noting the worried lines which were finding their way to Gregory's face at his words, he went on hastily:
"I'm sorry to have you come back into such a tangle as this. I did my best but you see I didn't have a minute to get out and take care of the sales."
"Don't say a word, Jack," Gregory interrupted. "You've done more than your part. Every man of you and every woman too," he added quickly. "I'll never forget it. This part of the game is up to me. I'm feeling fit now. Keen to get going. I want to look things over for a few minutes in the office. Then I'll talk with you again and let you know what I'm going to do first."
A careful examination of his finances convinced Gregory of the seriousness of the situation. There was only one thing to be done. He must visit the jobbers at once.
He paused abruptly in his calculations at the staccato bark of a high-powered motor. Mascola, he thought, as he rose and walked to the window. What he saw through the glass caused him to stand staring. Speeding through the dancing waters of the sunlit bay came a speed-launch, heading in the direction of the cannery wharf. But it was not the Fuor d'Italia. His eyes followed the course of the oncoming stranger and a worried frown leaped to his brow. It couldn't be that Joe Barrows had completed the Richard already. He glanced at the calendar and his frown deepened. In all probability it was his boat. And if so, where was he going to get the money to pay for it?
He walked to the wharf and with narrowing eyes watched the stranger's approach. Something wrong somewhere, he reasoned. He had ordered a speed-boat. One that would beat Mascola's. A craft with real lines and bird-like grace like the Fuor d'Italia. The oncoming launch, he observed bitterly, was the direct antithesis of his expectations. Surely there could be no speed in that squatty packet with her sagging bow and queer looking box-affair for a stern.
The strange craft drew abreast of the wharf and whirled about in a wave-washed circle. The motor hummed with contentment and the hull sank sullenly into the water as the man at the wheel guided the boat in the direction of the float. Then Gregory caught sight of the letters painted on the side:
"Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Gregory?"
The man in the boat looked up questioningly.
Gregory walked slowly to the float.
"I'm Mr. Gregory," he answered lifelessly. "I was almost wishing I wasn't if that's the launch I ordered."
The driver of the craft rested his arms on the big steering wheel and laughed outright.
"Don't like her, eh?" he grinned.
"Can't say that I do," Gregory answered. "It looks to me like Mr. Barrows misunderstood my orders."
The stranger's face grew instantly serious.
"You wanted a sea-going craft which could stand rough water and beat the Fuor d'Italia we built for Mascola," he said slowly. "And you left the lines and everything else entirely up to us. Is that right?"
Gregory nodded. Then a gleam of hope lighted his eye.
"You think this one will fill the bill?" he questioned.
"If she doesn't, it's up to us," the man answered. Noting the skeptical look in Gregory's face, he went on: "Don't make the mistake of trying to judge a boat from the dock, Mr. Gregory. 'You can't tell by the looks of a frog how far he can jump,' or how fast either. Barrows has been at the game long enough to quit guessing. When he tackles a proposition like yours, he wants your money, not your boat. I came down this morning to take you out for a trial. Then if there's anything you want changed we can fix it up before we turn her over to you to beat Mascola. If you can spare the time I'll take you back with me to Port Angeles. That will give you a good chance to see her perform in rough water as it's blowing up nasty off the breakwater."
Gregory's face cleared. The suggestion had two-fold value. By acting upon it at once he could combine business with pleasure. Visit the jobbers in the city and at the same time test out the launch.
"I'll be ready in half an hour," he answered.
The boatman nodded. "I'll run down-town," he said, "and get a bite to eat. Don't forget to bring a rain-coat with you. You're liable to get wet."
Gregory promised and hurried away. In the cannery he found McCoy and outlined his plans.
McCoy objected. "Better take it easy for a day or two," he counseled. "No use trying to hit the ball too hard at the start."
Gregory smiled brightly. "I'm feeling like a king, Mac," he said. "I'll find out what the trouble is with the jobbers and be back sometime to-morrow."
Seeing that his advice was futile, McCoy left to put up a few samples while his employer hurried into the office. Gregory turned at once to his desk. As he prepared the quotations for submission to the jobbers, a cheery voice interrupted him in his work.
In the doorway stood Dickie Lang.
He jumped hastily to his feet and put out his hands.
"Oh, if you only knew how good it was to be back," he began. Then, as he noticed the girl's rapid change of expression at his words, he hastened to amend: "I don't mean I was glad to leave your house. I wasn't. It's the only home I've known for a long time. I was only trying to say how glad I am to be able to get back to work."
Dickie smiled at his enthusiasm.
"I know," she said. "It's wonderful you were able to get back so soon."
Soon the talk turned to business and Gregory explained his plans for visiting Port Angeles. Like McCoy, Dickie voiced her objections, but with more vehemence. Seeing at last, however, that the young man could not be talked out of it, she exclaimed:
"Never let on to Aunt Mary that I knew you were going or she never would forgive me. She's kind of adopted you and she told me to look out for you."
Soon they were discussing the new speed-boat and its practicability at the present time should it be proved a success.
"Mascola ran across our trammels this morning with a dragnet," the girl explained. "If you had had that boat, you might have stopped them. He's getting pretty ugly lately and last night his men tried to crowd ours off the beach with their seine. If they try it again, there'll be trouble."
Remembering Gregory's object in going to the city, Dickie suggested:
"While you're in Port Angeles you might look in at the fresh fish markets and find out what's the matter with them, too. They are bad enough at best, but they've been getting worse for a long time. Now they are hardly yielding us enough to pay to ship."
Gregory promised and looking at his watch, saw he would have to leave at once.
"I wish you could go up there with me," he exclaimed. "Why couldn't you? I'll wait."
A smile flashed to the girl's lips, then disappeared on the instant. "It wouldn't be proper," she said gravely. "Port Angeles is a city and people look at things differently in cities. Aunt Mary would have nervous prostration if I even suggested it."
McCoy walked with Dickie Lang to the dock to bid Gregory bon voyage and wish him luck on his mission. Then they caught sight of the launch nearing the float and their disappointment registered in their faces. Gregory drew the girl aside.
"You have the same idea about her that I had," he said. "But don't worry. Barrows' man, I guess, knows what he's talking about and if she doesn't make good I don't take her." Lowering his voice so that only Dickie could hear, he met her eyes. "You'll notice," he said, "that I named her Richard. But as boats are always called 'she,' you will understand that means 'Dickie.'"
Before the girl could recover from her surprise he hurried away and dropped into the seat beside the driver. As the boatman threw in the clutch and the launch shot out into the stream, Gregory looked back at the wharf and noted that Dickie Lang's cheeks were red beneath her tan. And Jack McCoy, though he said nothing as he walked with the girl along the dock, wondered what the boss could have said to make Dick blush like that.
ROCK FOLLOWS UP
His first ride in a speed-boat.
Kenneth Gregory leaned back on the cushions and watched the Richard drag her heavy hull through the quiet water of Crescent Bay. A feeling of disgust assailed him. The craft was utterly worthless for his purposes. She had no pick-up at all and was barely able to maintain her lead as she lumbered along ahead of one of the fastest of Mascola's fishing-boats.
The driver, who called himself Bronson, appeared to be perfectly satisfied with the vessel's behavior and made no effort to crowd her by the fishing fleet. At length they reached the outlet and the Richard settled comfortably into the trough of the swell. Then Bronson turned to his passenger.
"Better put on your rain-coat," he suggested. "We'll be bucking the wind and it picks up the spray and throws it right back at us."
As he spoke he slipped into his slicker and waited for Gregory to don his mackintosh.
"I'm ready when you are," Gregory announced. "Let her go."
Bronson looked cautiously over his shoulder.
"Want to keep an eye out for Mascola," he said. "Don't want him to see this one in action until we're good and ready. I won't open her up to-day. Motor's too stiff yet and we're liable to burn out something."
As he spoke he advanced the throttle and the Richard protested at his action in a series of spasmodic coughs. Then the hood began to incline slowly and Gregory felt the hull rising. Perhaps the craft was not dead after all, but only sleeping. Watching Bronson's fingers on the spark and throttle, he noticed that the man was advancing them cautiously.
"Watch out for your hat," Bronson admonished.
Gregory moved his hand carelessly to his head and caught his hat just in time. With an angry roar the Richard shot forward, raising her great hood higher and higher in air while the hull seemed scarcely to be in the water at all. The wind blew in their faces like a hurricane carrying with it great clouds of spray which drenched their skins and blinded Gregory's eyes. Gasping for breath, he noticed that the Richard was climbing higher. Then Bronson opened the cut-out and the craft sped away like an angry sea-bird.
The roar of the exhaust was deafening and Gregory was obliged to shout to the man beside him before he was able to make himself heard.
"Is she wide open?" he shrieked.
Bronson directed his gaze to the position of the throttle device and Gregory saw with a gasp of astonishment that the throttle was only half open.
On they sped, the hull rising from the water and hurling itself along the crest of the waves, tossing them to the sides in great clouds of whirling, blinding spray. Could it be possible that the propeller was still in the water?
Suddenly he felt the Richard collapse and drop sullenly into the sea. The "machine-guns" had ceased firing and Bronson was regarding him with a smile. The boatman's face was crusted with salt and his eyes were twinkling.
"How about it?" he asked. "Do you think Barrows made any mistake?"
When Gregory recovered his breath, he observed: "Yes. I wanted a motor-boat. Not an aeroplane."
"Easier to go through the air than the water," he said. "That's why we made your boat plane. It takes a lot of power to put her on her 'high horse.' But once she's there, she makes her speed on a minimum of horse-power. That's why we bank on the Richard to beat the Fuor d'Italia. Your boat is heavier than Mascola's, closer ribbed, but you have more power. We're backing this one against his in any weather and the rougher it is the better it will suit us."
Gregory glowed with satisfaction. The Richard was all boat. He noticed that she did not tremble like Mascola's boat, but did her work in a businesslike way with no ostentation. He admired people like that, and as Dickie Lang had said and he was beginning to find out, boats were very much like people.
For some time Bronson instructed him in the proper operation of the craft. Then he slowed down and threw up the hood, disclosing two complete multi-cylindered motors.
"Everything's double," he explained. "You can cut it all in or halve it as you please. And if anything goes wrong with one motor you're never hung up. You can always limp in at least."
As they settled down to a good running speed, the talk gradually drifted to Mascola.
"The way things are going now," Bronson observed, "it won't be long before we're building a new boat for Mascola."
"What do you mean by that? Has he seen this one?"
The boatman shook his head.
"You needn't be afraid of that," he answered. "What I meant was that Mascola is hammering the Fuor d'Italia to pieces with his trips to Diablo in that rough water."
"Does Mascola go often to Diablo?" Gregory questioned quickly.
Bronson shrugged his shoulders non-committally.
"Can't say," he answered. "Don't know how often he goes out there. But I do know that he brags that his boat can make it in two hours and a half. Diablo's a bad place for the Fuor d'Italia. She's built too light to stand the gaff."
The ride to Port Angeles proved all too short. Bronson was communicative in the extreme and regaled him of many evidences of Mascola's prosperity, chief among which was the Italian's recent order to a firm of Norwegian boat-builders at Port Angeles of twenty large fishing launches of the most improved pattern. These boats, according to Bronson, were of sufficient tonnage and fuel capacity to enable them to cruise far down into Mexican waters.
As they rounded the light-house point and made for the breakwater, the wind increased, driving a choppy sea before it. Then it was that the Richard rose to the occasion and demonstrated her natural ability to cope with a head-on sea.
Arriving at the municipal docks, Gregory promised to call for the boat on the day following and hurried away to attend to his business. He had a real boat all right. Just what he wanted. Now all that remained to be done was to see the jobbers and get a few orders which he could convert into cash to pay for the Richard.
With elastic step he set out for the wholesale district imbued with a spirit of rosy optimism. The Western was first on his list. The chances were he would have to go no farther. A short talk with Mr. Eby, the resident manager, convinced him otherwise.
"Can't quite see your quotations, Gregory," that gentleman had crisply maintained. "We have been offered a similar line of goods at fully ten per cent. less."
Gregory was greatly surprised. McCoy, he knew, had figured a bed-rock, cash price and the extreme lowness of the quotation offered the Western was influenced solely by the possibility of a quick sale in straight car lots. And still the man claimed he could beat it.
"Do you mind telling me who is offering you stuff at a lower figure?" he asked.
Mr. Eby hesitated. It was to his interest to stimulate price cutting. The fact that the figure quoted was below cost was nothing to him. A cutthroat war between two rival canneries might result in still lower quotations which would give him a greater profit.
"Certainly not," he answered. "The figure quoted me was from the Golden Rule Cannery."
Gregory felt his face growing hot under the influence of Mr. Eby's exasperating smile.
"That figure is below cost and you know it," he said bluntly.
The manager continued to smile. "Possibly," he affirmed. "From your view-point. Your cost and theirs may be two different things. Your wage scale is much higher than theirs for one thing, and your system, in my mind, does not make in any way for low costs."
Gregory's anger mounted at the man's tone.
"What do you know about my business?" he asked quickly.
Mr. Eby shrugged.
"It is our business to keep in close touch with our customers," he evaded. "I'm just giving you a friendly tip to do away with some of your more or less impractical ideas, and put your business on a plane with others. You can take it for what it's worth."
Gregory curbed his anger and started for the door.
"My idea is working out all right, Mr. Eby," he said in parting. "And you are going to live to see you've overlooked a good bet."
Eby laughed. "Go to it, young man," he said. "You'll just have to live and learn like the rest of us. When you get down to earth again, come in and see us."
Somewhat taken back by his interview, Gregory sought the other jobbers. But at every place of business he was met by evasions and superficial excuses. Brown & Brown had heard he had gone out of business on account of ill-health. Possibly they would send a man down when they got straightened out. The Eureka people were overstocked and, on account of shortage of cars, were not buying any more for the present. Davis Incorporated were reorganizing and would do nothing until their plans were completed. Others intimated they would submit bids if he cared to sell at auction and some broached the question of taking his output on consignment. But from no firm did he receive even a conditional order.
The various interviews had a depressing effect upon Gregory's spirits. Weakened by his illness, he decided to call it a day and tackle the few remaining jobbers on the following morning.
As he sought the hotel he remembered his friend Hawkins, who was working on the Daily Times. Bill had been his lieutenant overseas. He was a fighting fool and had always been an optimistic chap. In his present frame of mind, optimism was what he needed. Accordingly he called Hawkins up and invited him to dinner.
Some hours later the two men were conversing in Gregory's room. The great war had been fought over again, mutual acquaintances checked up and the past thoroughly covered.
"And so now you are a full-fledged business man," Hawkins was saying, as the talk turned to the present, surveying Gregory through the haze of his cigarette.
"Yes. And from the way it looks now I'm about due to be plucked by these thieving jobbers."
Hawkins smiled brightly. "Nothing to it," he said. "You've overlooked two big things, that's all. When we get them straightened out, everything will be lovely."
Knowing that Hawkins expected no reply, Gregory waited for him to go on.
"Your idea is bully. I can't see any reason why it won't work out all right. But in order to make that possible you've got to stir up the animals. When you get an idea like that, the thing to be done is to capitalize it. Why withhold it from the public? They would be interested. Let them in on it."
"You mean advertise?" Gregory prompted.
A slight frown passed over Hawkins' face.
"Nothing so crude as that," he answered. "I mean publicity."
The newspaperman's face glowed with the importance of his subject and he continued rapidly:
"This is an age of publicity. With proper handling you can do most anything. Even adverse publicity, so-called, has its value. Lots of shows around here for instance are crowded to the doors every night by a mere suggestion that they are not all that they should be. The quickest way to kill a man or an idea in this country is by a 'campaign of silence.'"
Seeing that Gregory did not quite get his drift, he went on:
"Your idea is O.K. It will write up well if it is handled right. Moreover it is a little out of the ordinary, and all-American. That is a popular theme at present."
He paused and puffed the air full of smoke-wreaths. In the smoke he could see a big story. Why couldn't hard-headed business men realize the value of the thing he was trying to get at? Why, Kenneth Gregory's idea would be a winner at the present time. He, Bill Hawkins, could make it so.
"Listen," he said quietly. "I have to be getting back to the office so I can't say much now. I put over a big story for the boss yesterday. Shot myself to pieces over it. So he's giving me a week off on full pay to take it easy. I want a vacation. I'm a fan for fishing and if you'll give me an invitation to go back with you and will let me muss around on your boats, I'll see if I can't drop on to something that will look good in print. I have an idea I can have a few of the jobbers around here yelping at your heels for fish before I get back. In the morning I'll be off. Then I'll go down to Winfield & Camby's with you. I know the boss there and think maybe I can get him to talk 'turkey.'"
Gregory jumped eagerly at Hawkins' suggestion and immediately extended the desired invitation. The following morning saw the two men closeted at an early hour with Mr. Dupont, of Winfield & Camby. And under the warmth of Hawkins' introduction, the manager's manner thawed perceptibly toward the young cannery owner.
Noting the change, Gregory hastened to take advantage of it, and straightway put up his proposition. When he had concluded, Mr. Dupont took the floor.
"In our dealings with our patrons, Mr. Gregory," he began, "we are nothing, if not frank. Our firm is one of unimpeachable standing which follows as a natural result from years of square-dealing. We are, however, extremely conservative. We play, as the saying goes, no 'long-shots.' Once convinced of the dependability of our producers, we give them every chance and stick by them to the limit."
The manager removed his nose-glasses and polished them carefully before going on:
"I had the pleasure of meeting your father, Mr. Gregory. From my observation of him, he was everything that one could expect in a man. But he was constantly hampered with labor troubles of one sort or another. Consequently, he was unable to operate his plant in the way we like to see them operate. When we work up a trade for a particular brand, we like to be able to supply the demand which we create. If we were assured that you were able to make good in this respect, we would have no hesitation in sending a buyer down at once to inspect your pack."
"But you do not?"
Gregory met the man's eyes squarely and the manager looked him over critically.
"Yes," he answered after a moment. "For some reason or other I believe I do. I think you are working along the right lines. That is," he amended with a smile, "if you do not carry your ideas of cooperation far enough to deal direct with the consumer and cut us out of it."
As Gregory shook his head, Mr. Dupont concluded:
"I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll send Mr. Dalton down at once to look over your pack. How does that suit you?"
Gregory's face clearly expressed his satisfaction and a few moments later he hurried out into the street, leaving Hawkins with the manager.
"I'll meet you here at any time," Hawkins called after him.
Promising to meet his friend at four o'clock, Gregory started again on his rounds. Passing a butcher-shop he stopped and surveyed the array of fish which were on display in the window. He noted the prices and hastily compared them with the figures he was getting from the markets in Port Angeles for his fresh fish. There was surely money going to waste somewhere. Remembering that he had promised Dickie to visit the wholesalers, he directed his steps to the water-front.
The dealers he visited were scarcely civil and among them was none who spoke English without the accent of the foreigner. Their observations in response to his questions concerning the prices they were offering, were short and to the point. If he did not like it, he need not ship to them. They were dumping fish every day as it was. The market was glutted. What was he going to do about it?