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Title: Tales of the Fish Patrol
Author: London, Jack, 1876-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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http://www.pgdpcanada.net



TALES OF THE FISH
PATROL

BY
JACK LONDON

AUTHOR OF "THE SEA-WOLF," "PEOPLE OF THE
ABYSS," "THE CALL OF THE WILD," ETC.


_WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
GEORGE VARIAN_


New York
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
1905


_All rights reserved_



Copyright, 1905,
By PERRY MASON COMPANY.

Copyright, 1905,
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.


Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1905. Reprinted December,
1905.


Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


[Illustration: "I put my hand to my hip pocket."]



WORKS OF JACK LONDON


THE GAME

THE SEA-WOLF

THE CALL OF THE WILD

THE CHILDREN OF THE FROST

PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS

THE FAITH OF MEN AND OTHER STORIES

WAR OF THE CLASSES

THE KEMPTON-WACE LETTERS

TALES OF THE FISH PATROL



PUBLISHED BY
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY



Contents

                                                                   PAGE

  I.  White and Yellow                                                9

 II.  The King of the Greeks                                         39

III.  A Raid on the Oyster Pirates                                   71

 IV.  The Siege of the "Lancashire Queen"                           103

  V.  Charley's Coup                                                139

 VI.  Demetrios Contos                                              175

VII.  Yellow Handkerchief                                           209


Illustrations


"I put my hand to my hip pocket"                          _Frontispiece_

                                                            FACING PAGE

Map                                                                  11

"He saw fit to laugh and sneer at us, before all the fishermen"      60

"The Centipede and the Porpoise doubled up on the cabin
 in paroxysms of laughter"                                           86

"I suddenly arose and threw the grappling iron"                     116

"The consternation we spread among the fishermen was tremendous"    158

"There, in the stern, sat Demetrios Contos"                         204

"I went aft and took charge of the prize"                           218



TALES OF THE FISH PATROL



I

WHITE AND YELLOW

[Illustration: Map]


San Francisco Bay is so large that often its storms are more disastrous
to ocean-going craft than is the ocean itself in its violent moments.
The waters of the bay contain all manner of fish, wherefore its surface
is ploughed by the keels of all manner of fishing boats manned by all
manner of fishermen. To protect the fish from this motley floating
population many wise laws have been passed, and there is a fish patrol
to see that these laws are enforced. Exciting times are the lot of the
fish patrol: in its history more than one dead patrolman has marked
defeat, and more often dead fishermen across their illegal nets have
marked success.

Wildest among the fisher-folk may be accounted the Chinese
shrimp-catchers. It is the habit of the shrimp to crawl along the
bottom in vast armies till it reaches fresh water, when it turns about
and crawls back again to the salt. And where the tide ebbs and flows,
the Chinese sink great bag-nets to the bottom, with gaping mouths, into
which the shrimp crawls and from which it is transferred to the
boiling-pot. This in itself would not be bad, were it not for the small
mesh of the nets, so small that the tiniest fishes, little new-hatched
things not a quarter of an inch long, cannot pass through. The beautiful
beaches of Points Pedro and Pablo, where are the shrimp-catchers
villages, are made fearful by the stench from myriads of decaying fish,
and against this wasteful destruction it has ever been the duty of the
fish patrol to act.

When I was a youngster of sixteen, a good sloop-sailor and all-round
bay-waterman, my sloop, the _Reindeer_, was chartered by the Fish
Commission, and I became for the time being a deputy patrolman. After a
deal of work among the Greek fishermen of the Upper Bay and rivers,
where knives flashed at the beginning of trouble and men permitted
themselves to be made prisoners only after a revolver was thrust in
their faces, we hailed with delight an expedition to the Lower Bay
against the Chinese shrimp-catchers.

There were six of us, in two boats, and to avoid suspicion we ran down
after dark and dropped anchor under a projecting bluff of land known as
Point Pinole. As the east paled with the first light of dawn we got
under way again, and hauled close on the land breeze as we slanted
across the bay toward Point Pedro. The morning mists curled and clung
to the water so that we could see nothing, but we busied ourselves
driving the chill from our bodies with hot coffee. Also we had to
devote ourselves to the miserable task of bailing, for in some
incomprehensible way the _Reindeer_ had sprung a generous leak. Half
the night had been spent in overhauling the ballast and exploring the
seams, but the labor had been without avail. The water still poured in,
and perforce we doubled up in the cockpit and tossed it out again.

After coffee, three of the men withdrew to the other boat, a Columbia
River salmon boat, leaving three of us in the _Reindeer_. Then the two
craft proceeded in company till the sun showed over the eastern
skyline. Its fiery rays dispelled the clinging vapors, and there,
before our eyes, like a picture, lay the shrimp fleet, spread out in a
great half-moon, the tips of the crescent fully three miles apart, and
each junk moored fast to the buoy of a shrimp-net. But there was no
stir, no sign of life.

The situation dawned upon us. While waiting for slack water, in which
to lift their heavy nets from the bed of the bay, the Chinese had all
gone to sleep below. We were elated, and our plan of battle was swiftly
formed.

"Throw each of your two men on to a junk," whispered Le Grant to me
from the salmon boat. "And you make fast to a third yourself. We'll do
the same, and there's no reason in the world why we shouldn't capture
six junks at the least."

Then we separated. I put the _Reindeer_ about on the other tack, ran up
under the lee of a junk, shivered the mainsail into the wind and lost
headway, and forged past the stern of the junk so slowly and so near
that one of the patrolmen stepped lightly aboard. Then I kept off,
filled the mainsail, and bore away for a second junk.

Up to this time there had been no noise, but from the first junk
captured by the salmon boat an uproar now broke forth. There was shrill
Oriental yelling, a pistol shot, and more yelling.

"It's all up. They're warning the others," said George, the remaining
patrolman, as he stood beside me in the cockpit.

By this time we were in the thick of the fleet, and the alarm was
spreading with incredible swiftness. The decks were beginning to swarm
with half-awakened and half-naked Chinese. Cries and yells of warning
and anger were flying over the quiet water, and somewhere a conch shell
was being blown with great success. To the right of us I saw the
captain of a junk chop away his mooring line with an axe and spring to
help his crew at the hoisting of the huge, outlandish lug-sail. But to
the left the first heads were popping up from below on another junk, and
I rounded up the _Reindeer_ alongside long enough for George to spring
aboard.

The whole fleet was now under way. In addition to the sails they had
gotten out long sweeps, and the bay was being ploughed in every
direction by the fleeing junks. I was now alone in the _Reindeer_,
seeking feverishly to capture a third prize. The first junk I took after
was a clean miss, for it trimmed its sheets and shot away surprisingly
into the wind. By fully half a point it outpointed the _Reindeer_, and I
began to feel respect for the clumsy craft. Realizing the hopelessness
of the pursuit, I filled away, threw out the main-sheet, and drove down
before the wind upon the junks to leeward, where I had them at a
disadvantage.

The one I had selected wavered indecisively before me, and, as I swung
wide to make the boarding gentle, filled suddenly and darted away, the
swart Mongols shouting a wild rhythm as they bent to the sweeps. But I
had been ready for this. I luffed suddenly. Putting the tiller hard
down, and holding it down with my body, I brought the main-sheet in,
hand over hand, on the run, so as to retain all possible striking
force. The two starboard sweeps of the junk were crumpled up, and then
the two boats came together with a crash. The _Reindeer's_ bowsprit,
like a monstrous hand, reached over and ripped out the junk's chunky
mast and towering sail.

This was met by a curdling yell of rage. A big Chinaman, remarkably
evil-looking, with his head swathed in a yellow silk handkerchief and
face badly pock-marked, planted a pike-pole on the _Reindeer's_ bow and
began to shove the entangled boats apart. Pausing long enough to let go
the jib halyards, and just as the _Reindeer_ cleared and began to drift
astern, I leaped aboard the junk with a line and made fast. He of the
yellow handkerchief and pock-marked face came toward me threateningly,
but I put my hand into my hip pocket, and he hesitated. I was unarmed,
but the Chinese have learned to be fastidiously careful of American hip
pockets, and it was upon this that I depended to keep him and his
savage crew at a distance.

I ordered him to drop the anchor at the junk's bow, to which he replied,
"No sabbe." The crew responded in like fashion, and though I made my
meaning plain by signs, they refused to understand. Realizing the
inexpediency of discussing the matter, I went forward myself, overran
the line, and let the anchor go.

"Now get aboard, four of you," I said in a loud voice, indicating with
my fingers that four of them were to go with me and the fifth was to
remain by the junk. The Yellow Handkerchief hesitated; but I repeated
the order fiercely (much more fiercely than I felt), at the same time
sending my hand to my hip. Again the Yellow Handkerchief was overawed,
and with surly looks he led three of his men aboard the _Reindeer_. I
cast off at once, and, leaving the jib down, steered a course for
George's junk. Here it was easier, for there were two of us, and George
had a pistol to fall back on if it came to the worst. And here, as with
my junk, four Chinese were transferred to the sloop and one left behind
to take care of things.

Four more were added to our passenger list from the third junk. By this
time the salmon boat had collected its twelve prisoners and came
alongside, badly overloaded. To make matters worse, as it was a small
boat, the patrolmen were so jammed in with their prisoners that they
would have little chance in case of trouble.

"You'll have to help us out," said Le Grant.

I looked over my prisoners, who had crowded into the cabin and on top
of it. "I can take three," I answered.

"Make it four," he suggested, "and I'll take Bill with me." (Bill was
the third patrolman.) "We haven't elbow room here, and in case of a
scuffle one white to every two of them will be just about the right
proportion."

The exchange was made, and the salmon boat got up its spritsail and
headed down the bay toward the marshes off San Rafael. I ran up the jib
and followed with the _Reindeer_. San Rafael, where we were to turn our
catch over to the authorities, communicated with the bay by way of a
long and tortuous slough, or marshland creek, which could be navigated
only when the tide was in. Slack water had come, and, as the ebb was
commencing, there was need for hurry if we cared to escape waiting half
a day for the next tide.

But the land breeze had begun to die away with the rising sun, and now
came only in failing puffs. The salmon boat got out its oars and soon
left us far astern. Some of the Chinese stood in the forward part of
the cockpit, near the cabin doors, and once, as I leaned over the
cockpit rail to flatten down the jib-sheet a bit, I felt some one brush
against my hip pocket. I made no sign, but out of the corner of my eye
I saw that the Yellow Handkerchief had discovered the emptiness of the
pocket which had hitherto overawed him.

To make matters serious, during all the excitement of boarding the
junks the _Reindeer_ had not been bailed, and the water was beginning
to slush over the cockpit floor. The shrimp-catchers pointed at it and
looked to me questioningly.

"Yes," I said. "Bime by, allee same dlown, velly quick, you no bail
now. Sabbe?"

No, they did not "sabbe," or at least they shook their heads to that
effect, though they chattered most comprehendingly to one another in
their own lingo. I pulled up three or four of the bottom boards, got a
couple of buckets from a locker, and by unmistakable sign-language
invited them to fall to. But they laughed, and some crowded into the
cabin and some climbed up on top.

Their laughter was not good laughter. There was a hint of menace in it,
a maliciousness which their black looks verified. The Yellow
Handkerchief, since his discovery of my empty pocket, had become most
insolent in his bearing, and he wormed about among the other prisoners,
talking to them with great earnestness.

Swallowing my chagrin, I stepped down into the cockpit and began
throwing out the water. But hardly had I begun, when the boom swung
overhead, the mainsail filled with a jerk, and the _Reindeer_ heeled
over. The day wind was springing up. George was the veriest of
landlubbers, so I was forced to give over bailing and take the tiller.
The wind was blowing directly off Point Pedro and the high mountains
behind, and because of this was squally and uncertain, half the time
bellying the canvas out, and the other half flapping it idly.

George was about the most all-round helpless man I had ever met. Among
his other disabilities, he was a consumptive, and I knew that if he
attempted to bail, it might bring on a hemorrhage. Yet the rising water
warned me that something must be done. Again I ordered the
shrimp-catchers to lend a hand with the buckets. They laughed defiantly,
and those inside the cabin, the water up to their ankles, shouted back
and forth with those on top.

"You'd better get out your gun and make them bail," I said to George.

But he shook his head and showed all too plainly that he was afraid.
The Chinese could see the funk he was in as well as I could, and their
insolence became insufferable. Those in the cabin broke into the food
lockers, and those above scrambled down and joined them in a feast on
our crackers and canned goods.

"What do we care?" George said weakly.

I was fuming with helpless anger. "If they get out of hand, it will be
too late to care. The best thing you can do is to get them in check
right now."

The water was rising higher and higher, and the gusts, forerunners of a
steady breeze, were growing stiffer and stiffer. And between the gusts,
the prisoners, having gotten away with a week's grub, took to crowding
first to one side and then to the other till the _Reindeer_ rocked like
a cockle-shell. Yellow Handkerchief approached me, and, pointing out
his village on the Point Pedro beach, gave me to understand that if I
turned the _Reindeer_ in that direction and put them ashore, they, in
turn, would go to bailing. By now the water in the cabin was up to the
bunks, and the bed-clothes were sopping. It was a foot deep on the
cockpit floor. Nevertheless I refused, and I could see by George's face
that he was disappointed.

"If you don't show some nerve, they'll rush us and throw us overboard,"
I said to him. "Better give me your revolver, if you want to be safe."

"The safest thing to do," he chattered cravenly, "is to put them
ashore. I, for one, don't want to be drowned for the sake of a handful
of dirty Chinamen."

"And I, for another, don't care to give in to a handful of dirty
Chinamen to escape drowning," I answered hotly.

"You'll sink the _Reindeer_ under us all at this rate," he whined. "And
what good that'll do I can't see."

"Every man to his taste," I retorted.

He made no reply, but I could see he was trembling pitifully. Between
the threatening Chinese and the rising water he was beside himself with
fright; and, more than the Chinese and the water, I feared him and what
his fright might impel him to do. I could see him casting longing
glances at the small skiff towing astern, so in the next calm I hauled
the skiff alongside. As I did so his eyes brightened with hope; but
before he could guess my intention, I stove the frail bottom through
with a hand-axe, and the skiff filled to its gunwales.

"It's sink or float together," I said. "And if you'll give me your
revolver, I'll have the _Reindeer_ bailed out in a jiffy."

"They're too many for us," he whimpered. "We can't fight them all."

I turned my back on him in disgust. The salmon boat had long since
passed from sight behind a little archipelago known as the Marin
Islands, so no help could be looked for from that quarter. Yellow
Handkerchief came up to me in a familiar manner, the water in the
cockpit slushing against his legs. I did not like his looks. I felt that
beneath the pleasant smile he was trying to put on his face there was an
ill purpose. I ordered him back, and so sharply that he obeyed.

"Now keep your distance," I commanded, "and don't you come closer!"

"Wha' fo'?" he demanded indignantly. "I t'ink-um talkee talkee heap
good."

"Talkee talkee," I answered bitterly, for I knew now that he had
understood all that passed between George and me. "What for talkee
talkee? You no sabbe talkee talkee."

He grinned in a sickly fashion. "Yep, I sabbe velly much. I honest
Chinaman."

"All right," I answered. "You sabbe talkee talkee, then you bail water
plenty plenty. After that we talkee talkee."

He shook his head, at the same time pointing over his shoulder to his
comrades. "No can do. Velly bad Chinamen, heap velly bad. I t'ink-um--"

"Stand back!" I shouted, for I had noticed his hand disappear beneath
his blouse and his body prepare for a spring.

Disconcerted, he went back into the cabin, to hold a council,
apparently, from the way the jabbering broke forth. The _Reindeer_ was
very deep in the water, and her movements had grown quite loggy. In a
rough sea she would have inevitably swamped; but the wind, when it did
blow, was off the land, and scarcely a ripple disturbed the surface of
the bay.

"I think you'd better head for the beach," George said abruptly, in a
manner that told me his fear had forced him to make up his mind to some
course of action.

"I think not," I answered shortly.

"I command you," he said in a bullying tone.

"I was commanded to bring these prisoners into San Rafael," was my
reply.

Our voices were raised, and the sound of the altercation brought the
Chinese out of the cabin.

"Now will you head for the beach?"

This from George, and I found myself looking into the muzzle of his
revolver--of the revolver he dared to use on me, but was too cowardly
to use on the prisoners.

My brain seemed smitten with a dazzling brightness. The whole situation,
in all its bearings, was focussed sharply before me--the shame of
losing the prisoners, the worthlessness and cowardice of George, the
meeting with Le Grant and the other patrol-men and the lame explanation;
and then there was the fight I had fought so hard, victory wrenched
from me just as I thought I had it within my grasp. And out of the tail
of my eye I could see the Chinese crowding together by the cabin doors
and leering triumphantly. It would never do.

I threw my hand up and my head down. The first act elevated the muzzle,
and the second removed my head from the path of the bullet which went
whistling past. One hand closed on George's wrist, the other on the
revolver. Yellow Handkerchief and his gang sprang toward me. It was now
or never. Putting all my strength into a sudden effort, I swung
George's body forward to meet them. Then I pulled back with equal
suddenness, ripping the revolver out of his fingers and jerking him off
his feet. He fell against Yellow Handkerchief's knees, who stumbled over
him, and the pair wallowed in the bailing hole where the cockpit floor
was torn open. The next instant I was covering them with my revolver,
and the wild shrimp-catchers were cowering and cringing away.

But I swiftly discovered that there was all the difference in the world
between shooting men who are attacking and men who are doing nothing
more than simply refusing to obey. For obey they would not when I
ordered them into the bailing hole. I threatened them with the revolver,
but they sat stolidly in the flooded cabin and on the roof and would
not move.

Fifteen minutes passed, the _Reindeer_ sinking deeper and deeper, her
mainsail flapping in the calm. But from off the Point Pedro shore I saw
a dark line form on the water and travel toward us. It was the steady
breeze I had been expecting so long. I called to the Chinese and
pointed it out. They hailed it with exclamations. Then I pointed to the
sail and to the water in the _Reindeer_, and indicated by signs that
when the wind reached the sail, what of the water aboard we would
capsize. But they jeered defiantly, for they knew it was in my power to
luff the helm and let go the main-sheet, so as to spill the wind and
escape damage.

But my mind was made up. I hauled in the main-sheet a foot or two, took
a turn with it, and bracing my feet, put my back against the tiller.
This left me one hand for the sheet and one for the revolver. The dark
line drew nearer, and I could see them looking from me to it and back
again with an apprehension they could not successfully conceal. My
brain and will and endurance were pitted against theirs, and the
problem was which could stand the strain of imminent death the longer
and not give in.

Then the wind struck us. The mainsheet tautened with a brisk rattling
of the blocks, the boom uplifted, the sail bellied out, and the
_Reindeer_ heeled over--over, and over, till the lee-rail went under,
the deck went under, the cabin windows went under, and the bay began to
pour in over the cockpit rail. So violently had she heeled over, that
the men in the cabin had been thrown on top of one another into the lee
bunk, where they squirmed and twisted and were washed about, those
underneath being perilously near to drowning.

The wind freshened a bit, and the _Reindeer_ went over farther than
ever. For the moment I thought she was gone, and I knew that another
puff like that and she surely would go. While I pressed her under and
debated whether I should give up or not, the Chinese cried for mercy. I
think it was the sweetest sound I have ever heard. And then, and not
until then, did I luff up and ease out the main-sheet. The _Reindeer_
righted very slowly, and when she was on an even keel was so much awash
that I doubted if she could be saved.

But the Chinese scrambled madly into the cockpit and fell to bailing
with buckets, pots, pans, and everything they could lay hands on. It
was a beautiful sight to see that water flying over the side! And when
the _Reindeer_ was high and proud on the water once more, we dashed
away with the breeze on our quarter, and at the last possible moment
crossed the mud flats and entered the slough.

The spirit of the Chinese was broken, and so docile did they become
that ere we made San Rafael they were out with the tow-rope, Yellow
Handkerchief at the head of the line. As for George, it was his last
trip with the fish patrol. He did not care for that sort of thing, he
explained, and he thought a clerkship ashore was good enough for him.
And we thought so, too.



II

THE KING OF THE GREEKS


Big Alec had never been captured by the fish patrol. It was his boast
that no man could take him alive, and it was his history that of the
many men who had tried to take him dead none had succeeded. It was also
history that at least two patrolmen who had tried to take him dead had
died themselves. Further, no man violated the fish laws more
systematically and deliberately than Big Alec.

He was called "Big Alec" because of his gigantic stature. His height
was six feet three inches, and he was correspondingly broad-shouldered
and deep-chested. He was splendidly muscled and hard as steel, and
there were innumerable stories in circulation among the fisher-folk
concerning his prodigious strength. He was as bold and dominant of
spirit as he was strong of body, and because of this he was widely
known by another name, that of "The King of the Greeks." The fishing
population was largely composed of Greeks, and they looked up to him
and obeyed him as their chief. And as their chief, he fought their
fights for them, saw that they were protected, saved them from the law
when they fell into its clutches, and made them stand by one another
and himself in time of trouble.

In the old days, the fish patrol had attempted his capture many
disastrous times and had finally given it over, so that when the word
was out that he was coming to Benicia, I was most anxious to see him.

But I did not have to hunt him up. In his usual bold way, the first
thing he did on arriving was to hunt us up. Charley Le Grant and I at
the time were under a patrolman named Carmintel, and the three of us
were on the _Reindeer_, preparing for a trip, when Big Alec stepped
aboard. Carmintel evidently knew him, for they shook hands in
recognition. Big Alec took no notice of Charley or me.

"I've come down to fish sturgeon a couple of months," he said to
Carmintel.

His eyes flashed with challenge as he spoke, and we noticed the
patrolman's eyes drop before him.

"That's all right, Alec," Carmintel said in a low voice. "I'll not
bother you. Come on into the cabin, and we'll talk things over," he
added.

When they had gone inside and shut the doors after them, Charley winked
with slow deliberation at me. But I was only a youngster, and new to
men and the ways of some men, so I did not understand. Nor did Charley
explain, though I felt there was something wrong about the business.

Leaving them to their conference, at Charley's suggestion we boarded
our skiff and pulled over to the Old Steamboat Wharf, where Big Alec's
ark was lying. An ark is a house-boat of small though comfortable
dimensions, and is as necessary to the Upper Bay fisherman as are nets
and boats. We were both curious to see Big Alec's ark, for history said
that it had been the scene of more than one pitched battle, and that it
was riddled with bullet-holes.

We found the holes (stopped with wooden plugs and painted over), but
there were not so many as I had expected. Charley noted my look of
disappointment, and laughed; and then to comfort me he gave an
authentic account of one expedition which had descended upon Big Alec's
floating home to capture him, alive preferably, dead if necessary. At
the end of half a day's fighting, the patrolmen had drawn off in
wrecked boats, with one of their number killed and three wounded. And
when they returned next morning with reënforcements they found only the
mooring-stakes of Big Alec's ark; the ark itself remained hidden for
months in the fastnesses of the Suisun tules.

"But why was he not hanged for murder?" I demanded. "Surely the United
States is powerful enough to bring such a man to justice."

"He gave himself up and stood trial," Charley answered. "It cost him
fifty thousand dollars to win the case, which he did on technicalities
and with the aid of the best lawyers in the state. Every Greek
fisherman on the river contributed to the sum. Big Alec levied and
collected the tax, for all the world like a king. The United States may
be all-powerful, my lad, but the fact remains that Big Alec is a king
inside the United States, with a country and subjects all his own."

"But what are you going to do about his fishing for sturgeon? He's
bound to fish with a 'Chinese line.'"

Charley shrugged his shoulders. "We'll see what we will see," he said
enigmatically.

Now a "Chinese line" is a cunning device invented by the people whose
name it bears. By a simple system of floats, weights, and anchors,
thousands of hooks, each on a separate leader, are suspended at a
distance of from six inches to a foot above the bottom. The remarkable
thing about such a line is the hook. It is barbless, and in place of
the barb, the hook is filed long and tapering to a point as sharp as
that of a needle. These hooks are only a few inches apart, and when
several thousand of them are suspended just above the bottom, like a
fringe, for a couple of hundred fathoms, they present a formidable
obstacle to the fish that travel along the bottom.

Such a fish is the sturgeon, which goes rooting along like a pig, and
indeed is often called "pig-fish." Pricked by the first hook it touches,
the sturgeon gives a startled leap and comes into contact with half a
dozen more hooks. Then it threshes about wildly, until it receives hook
after hook in its soft flesh; and the hooks, straining from many
different angles, hold the luckless fish fast until it is drowned.
Because no sturgeon can pass through a Chinese line, the device is
called a trap in the fish laws; and because it bids fair to exterminate
the sturgeon, it is branded by the fish laws as illegal. And such a
line, we were confident, Big Alec intended setting, in open and flagrant
violation of the law.

Several days passed after the visit of Big Alec, during which Charley
and I kept a sharp watch on him. He towed his ark around the Solano
Wharf and into the big bight at Turner's Shipyard. The bight we knew to
be good ground for sturgeon, and there we felt sure the King of the
Greeks intended to begin operations. The tide circled like a mill-race
in and out of this bight, and made it possible to raise, lower, or set
a Chinese line only at slack water. So between the tides Charley and I
made it a point for one or the other of us to keep a lookout from the
Solano Wharf.

On the fourth day I was lying in the sun behind the stringer-piece of
the wharf, when I saw a skiff leave the distant shore and pull out into
the bight. In an instant the glasses were at my eyes and I was
following every movement of the skiff. There were two men in it, and
though it was a good mile away, I made out one of them to be Big Alec;
and ere the skiff returned to shore I made out enough more to know that
the Greek had set his line.

"Big Alec has a Chinese line out in the bight off Turner's Shipyard,"
Charley Le Grant said that afternoon to Carmintel.

A fleeting expression of annoyance passed over the patrolman's face,
and then he said, "Yes?" in an absent way, and that was all.

Charley bit his lip with suppressed anger and turned on his heel.

"Are you game, my lad?" he said to me later on in the evening, just as
we finished washing down the _Reindeer's_ decks and were preparing to
turn in.

A lump came up in my throat, and I could only nod my head.

"Well, then," and Charley's eyes glittered in a determined way, "we've
got to capture Big Alec between us, you and I, and we've got to do it
in spite of Carmintel. Will you lend a hand?"

"It's a hard proposition, but we can do it," he added after a pause.

"Of course we can," I supplemented enthusiastically.

And then he said, "Of course we can," and we shook hands on it and went
to bed.

But it was no easy task we had set ourselves. In order to convict a man
of illegal fishing, it was necessary to catch him in the act with all
the evidence of the crime about him--the hooks, the lines, the fish,
and the man himself. This meant that we must take Big Alec on the open
water, where he could see us coming and prepare for us one of the warm
receptions for which he was noted.

"There's no getting around it," Charley said one morning. "If we can
only get alongside it's an even toss, and there's nothing left for us
but to try and get alongside. Come on, lad."

We were in the Columbia River salmon boat, the one we had used against
the Chinese shrimp-catchers. Slack water had come, and as we dropped
around the end of the Solano Wharf we saw Big Alec at work, running his
line and removing the fish.

"Change places," Charley commanded, "and steer just astern of him as
though you're going into the shipyard."

I took the tiller, and Charley sat down on a thwart amidships, placing
his revolver handily beside him.

"If he begins to shoot," he cautioned, "get down in the bottom and steer
from there, so that nothing more than your hand will be exposed."

I nodded, and we kept silent after that, the boat slipping gently
through the water and Big Alec growing nearer and nearer. We could see
him quite plainly, gaffing the sturgeon and throwing them into the boat
while his companion ran the line and cleared the hooks as he dropped
them back into the water. Nevertheless, we were five hundred yards away
when the big fisherman hailed us.

"Here! You! What do you want?" he shouted.

"Keep going," Charley whispered, "just as though you didn't hear him."

The next few moments were very anxious ones. The fisherman was studying
us sharply, while we were gliding up on him every second.

"You keep off if you know what's good for you!" he called out suddenly,
as though he had made up his mind as to who and what we were. "If you
don't, I'll fix you!"

He brought a rifle to his shoulder and trained it on me.

"Now will you keep off?" he demanded.

I could hear Charley groan with disappointment. "Keep off," he
whispered; "it's all up for this time."

I put up the tiller and eased the sheet, and the salmon boat ran off
five or six points. Big Alec watched us till we were out of range, when
he returned to his work.

"You'd better leave Big Alec alone," Carmintel said, rather sourly, to
Charley that night.

"So he's been complaining to you, has he?" Charley said significantly.

Carmintel flushed painfully. "You'd better leave him alone, I tell you,"
he repeated. "He's a dangerous man, and it won't pay to fool with him."

"Yes," Charley answered softly; "I've heard that it pays better to leave
him alone."

This was a direct thrust at Carmintel, and we could see by the
expression of his face that it sank home. For it was common knowledge
that Big Alec was as willing to bribe as to fight, and that of late
years more than one patrolman had handled the fisherman's money.

"Do you mean to say--" Carmintel began, in a bullying tone.

But Charley cut him off shortly. "I mean to say nothing," he said. "You
heard what I said, and if the cap fits, why--"

He shrugged his shoulders, and Carmintel glowered at him, speechless.

"What we want is imagination," Charley said to me one day, when we had
attempted to creep upon Big Alec in the gray of dawn and had been shot
at for our trouble.

And thereafter, and for many days, I cudgelled my brains trying to
imagine some possible way by which two men, on an open stretch of water,
could capture another who knew how to use a rifle and was never to be
found without one. Regularly, every slack water, without slyness,
boldly and openly in the broad day, Big Alec was to be seen running his
line. And what made it particularly exasperating was the fact that
every fisherman, from Benicia to Vallejo, knew that he was successfully
defying us. Carmintel also bothered us, for he kept us busy among the
shad-fishers of San Pablo, so that we had little time to spare on the
King of the Greeks. But Charley's wife and children lived at Benicia,
and we had made the place our headquarters, so that we always returned
to it.

"I'll tell you what we can do," I said, after several fruitless weeks
had passed; "we can wait some slack water till Big Alec has run his
line and gone ashore with the fish, and then we can go out and capture
the line. It will put him to time and expense to make another, and then
we'll figure to capture that too. If we can't capture him, we can
discourage him, you see."

Charley saw, and said it wasn't a bad idea. We watched our chance, and
the next low-water slack, after Big Alec had removed the fish from the
line and returned ashore, we went out in the salmon boat. We had the
bearings of the line from shore marks, and we knew we would have no
difficulty in locating it. The first of the flood tide was setting in,
when we ran below where we thought the line was stretched and dropped
over a fishing-boat anchor. Keeping a short rope to the anchor, so that
it barely touched the bottom, we dragged it slowly along until it stuck
and the boat fetched up hard and fast.

"We've got it," Charley cried. "Come on and lend a hand to get it in."

Together we hove up the rope till the anchor came in sight with the
sturgeon line caught across one of the flukes. Scores of the
murderous-looking hooks flashed into sight as we cleared the anchor,
and we had just started to run along the line to the end where we could
begin to lift it, when a sharp thud in the boat startled us. We looked
about, but saw nothing and returned to our work. An instant later there
was a similar sharp thud and the gunwale splintered between Charley's
body and mine.

"That's remarkably like a bullet, lad," he said reflectively. "And it's
a long shot Big Alec's making."

"And he's using smokeless powder," he concluded, after an examination of
the mile-distant shore. "That's why we can't hear the report."

I looked at the shore, but could see no sign of Big Alec, who was
undoubtedly hidden in some rocky nook with us at his mercy. A third
bullet struck the water, glanced, passed singing over our heads, and
struck the water again beyond.

"I guess we'd better get out of this," Charley remarked coolly. "What
do you think, lad?"

I thought so, too, and said we didn't want the line anyway. Whereupon
we cast off and hoisted the spritsail. The bullets ceased at once, and
we sailed away, unpleasantly confident that Big Alec was laughing at our
discomfiture.

And more than that, the next day on the fishing wharf, where we were
inspecting nets, he saw fit to laugh and sneer at us, and this before
all the fishermen. Charley's face went black with anger; but beyond
promising Big Alec that in the end he would surely land him behind the
bars, he controlled himself and said nothing. The King of the Greeks
made his boast that no fish patrol had ever taken him or ever could
take him, and the fishermen cheered him and said it was true. They grew
excited, and it looked like trouble for a while; but Big Alec asserted
his kingship and quelled them.

Carmintel also laughed at Charley, and dropped sarcastic remarks, and
made it hard for him. But Charley refused to be angered, though he told
me in confidence that he intended to capture Big Alec if it took all the
rest of his life to accomplish it.

"I don't know how I'll do it," he said, "but do it I will, as sure as I
am Charley Le Grant. The idea will come to me at the right and proper
time, never fear."

And at the right time it came, and most unexpectedly. Fully a month had
passed, and we were constantly up and down the river, and down and up
the bay, with no spare moments to devote to the particular fisherman
who ran a Chinese line in the bight of Turner's Shipyard. We had called
in at Selby's Smelter one afternoon, while on patrol work, when all
unknown to us our opportunity happened along. It appeared in the guise
of a helpless yacht loaded with seasick people, so we could hardly be
expected to recognize it as the opportunity. It was a large sloop-yacht,
and it was helpless inasmuch as the trade-wind was blowing half a gale
and there were no capable sailors aboard.

[Illustration: "He saw fit to laugh sneer at us, before all the
fishermen."]

From the wharf at Selby's we watched with careless interest the
lubberly manoeuvre performed of bringing the yacht to anchor, and the
equally lubberly manoeuvre of sending the small boat ashore. A very
miserable-looking man in draggled ducks, after nearly swamping the boat
in the heavy seas, passed us the painter and climbed out. He staggered
about as though the wharf were rolling, and told us his troubles, which
were the troubles of the yacht. The only rough-weather sailor aboard,
the man on whom they all depended, had been called back to San
Francisco by a telegram, and they had attempted to continue the cruise
alone. The high wind and big seas of San Pablo Bay had been too much
for them; all hands were sick, nobody knew anything or could do
anything; and so they had run in to the smelter either to desert the
yacht or to get somebody to bring it to Benicia. In short, did we know
of any sailors who would bring the yacht into Benicia?

Charley looked at me. The _Reindeer_ was lying in a snug place. We had
nothing on hand in the way of patrol work till midnight. With the wind
then blowing, we could sail the yacht into Benicia in a couple of
hours, have several more hours ashore, and come back to the smelter on
the evening train.

"All right, captain," Charley said to the disconsolate yachtsman, who
smiled in sickly fashion at the title.

"I'm only the owner," he explained.

We rowed him aboard in much better style than he had come ashore, and
saw for ourselves the helplessness of the passengers. There were a dozen
men and women, and all of them too sick even to appear grateful at our
coming. The yacht was rolling savagely, broad on, and no sooner had the
owner's feet touched the deck than he collapsed and joined the others.
Not one was able to bear a hand, so Charley and I between us cleared the
badly tangled running gear, got up sail, and hoisted anchor.

It was a rough trip, though a swift one. The Carquinez Straits were a
welter of foam and smother, and we came through them wildly before the
wind, the big mainsail alternately dipping and flinging its boom
skyward as we tore along. But the people did not mind. They did not
mind anything. Two or three, including the owner, sprawled in the
cockpit, shuddering when the yacht lifted and raced and sank dizzily
into the trough, and between-whiles regarding the shore with yearning
eyes. The rest were huddled on the cabin floor among the cushions. Now
and again some one groaned, but for the most part they were as limp as
so many dead persons.

As the bight at Turner's Shipyard opened out, Charley edged into it to
get the smoother water. Benicia was in view, and we were bowling along
over comparatively easy water, when a speck of a boat danced up ahead
of us, directly in our course. It was low-water slack. Charley and I
looked at each other. No word was spoken, but at once the yacht began a
most astonishing performance, veering and yawing as though the greenest
of amateurs was at the wheel. It was a sight for sailormen to see. To
all appearances, a runaway yacht was careering madly over the bight,
and now and again yielding a little bit to control in a desperate
effort to make Benicia.

The owner forgot his seasickness long enough to look anxious. The speck
of a boat grew larger and larger, till we could see Big Alec and his
partner, with a turn of the sturgeon line around a cleat, resting from
their labor to laugh at us. Charley pulled his sou'wester over his eyes,
and I followed his example, though I could not guess the idea he
evidently had in mind and intended to carry into execution.

We came foaming down abreast of the skiff, so close that we could hear
above the wind the voices of Big Alec and his mate as they shouted at
us with all the scorn that professional watermen feel for amateurs,
especially when amateurs are making fools of themselves.

We thundered on past the fishermen, and nothing had happened. Charley
grinned at the disappointment he saw in my face, and then shouted:

"Stand by the main-sheet to jibe!"

He put the wheel hard over, and the yacht whirled around obediently.
The main-sheet slacked and dipped, then shot over our heads after the
boom and tautened with a crash on the traveller. The yacht heeled over
almost on her beam ends, and a great wail went up from the seasick
passengers as they swept across the cabin floor in a tangled mass and
piled into a heap in the starboard bunks.

But we had no time for them. The yacht, completing the manoeuvre, headed
into the wind with slatting canvas, and righted to an even keel. We
were still plunging ahead, and directly in our path was the skiff. I
saw Big Alec dive over-board and his mate leap for our bowsprit. Then
came the crash as we struck the boat, and a series of grinding bumps as
it passed under our bottom.

"That fixes his rifle," I heard Charley mutter, as he sprang upon the
deck to look for Big Alec somewhere astern.

The wind and sea quickly stopped our forward movement, and we began to
drift backward over the spot where the skiff had been. Big Alec's black
head and swarthy face popped up within arm's reach; and all
unsuspecting and very angry with what he took to be the clumsiness of
amateur sailors, he was hauled aboard. Also he was out of breath, for
he had dived deep and stayed down long to escape our keel.

The next instant, to the perplexity and consternation of the owner,
Charley was on top of Big Alec in the cockpit, and I was helping bind
him with gaskets. The owner was dancing excitedly about and demanding
an explanation, but by that time Big Alec's partner had crawled aft
from the bowsprit and was peering apprehensively over the rail into the
cockpit. Charley's arm shot around his neck and the man landed on his
back beside Big Alec.

"More gaskets!" Charley shouted, and I made haste to supply them.

The wrecked skiff was rolling sluggishly a short distance to windward,
and I trimmed the sheets while Charley took the wheel and steered for
it.

"These two men are old offenders," he explained to the angry owner;
"and they are most persistent violators of the fish and game laws. You
have seen them caught in the act, and you may expect to be subpoenaed as
witness for the state when the trial comes off."

As he spoke he rounded alongside the skiff. It had been torn from the
line, a section of which was dragging to it. He hauled in forty or
fifty feet with a young sturgeon still fast in a tangle of barbless
hooks, slashed that much of the line free with his knife, and tossed it
into the cockpit beside the prisoners.

"And there's the evidence, Exhibit A, for the people," Charley
continued. "Look it over carefully so that you may identify it in the
court-room with the time and place of capture."

And then, in triumph, with no more veering and yawing, we sailed into
Benicia, the King of the Greeks bound hard and fast in the cockpit, and
for the first time in his life a prisoner of the fish patrol.



III

A RAID ON THE OYSTER
PIRATES


Of the fish patrolmen under whom we served at various times, Charley Le
Grant and I were agreed, I think, that Neil Partington was the best. He
was neither dishonest nor cowardly; and while he demanded strict
obedience when we were under his orders, at the same time our relations
were those of easy comradeship, and he permitted us a freedom to which
we were ordinarily unaccustomed, as the present story will show.

Neil's family lived in Oakland, which is on the Lower Bay, not more
than six miles across the water from San Francisco. One day, while
scouting among the Chinese shrimp-catchers of Point Pedro, he received
word that his wife was very ill; and within the hour the _Reindeer_ was
bowling along for Oakland, with a stiff northwest breeze astern. We ran
up the Oakland Estuary and came to anchor, and in the days that
followed, while Neil was ashore, we tightened up the _Reindeer's_
rigging, overhauled the ballast, scraped down, and put the sloop into
thorough shape.

This done, time hung heavy on our hands. Neil's wife was dangerously
ill, and the outlook was a week's lie-over, awaiting the crisis. Charley
and I roamed the docks, wondering what we should do, and so came upon
the oyster fleet lying at the Oakland City Wharf. In the main they were
trim, natty boats, made for speed and bad weather, and we sat down on
the stringer-piece of the dock to study them.

"A good catch, I guess," Charley said, pointing to the heaps of oysters,
assorted in three sizes, which lay upon their decks.

Pedlers were backing their wagons to the edge of the
wharf, and from the bargaining and chaffering that went on, I managed to
learn the selling price of the oysters.

"That boat must have at least two hundred dollars' worth aboard," I
calculated. "I wonder how long it took to get the load?"

"Three or four days," Charley answered. "Not bad wages for two
men--twenty-five dollars a day apiece."

The boat we were discussing, the _Ghost_, lay directly beneath us. Two
men composed its crew. One was a squat, broad-shouldered fellow with
remarkably long and gorilla-like arms, while the other was tall and
well proportioned, with clear blue eyes and a mat of straight black
hair. So unusual and striking was this combination of hair and eyes
that Charley and I remained somewhat longer than we intended.

And it was well that we did. A stout, elderly man, with the dress and
carriage of a successful merchant, came up and stood beside us, looking
down upon the deck of the _Ghost_. He appeared angry, and the longer he
looked the angrier he grew.

"Those are my oysters," he said at last. "I know they are my oysters.
You raided my beds last night and robbed me of them."

The tall man and the short man on the _Ghost_ looked up.

"Hello, Taft," the short man said, with insolent familiarity. (Among
the bayfarers he had gained the nickname of "The Centipede" on account
of his long arms.) "Hello, Taft," he repeated, with the same touch of
insolence. "Wot 'r you growlin' about now?"

"Those are my oysters--that's what I said. You've stolen them from my
beds."

"Yer mighty wise, ain't ye?" was the Centipede's sneering reply. "S'pose
you can tell your oysters wherever you see 'em?"

"Now, in my experience," broke in the tall man, "oysters is oysters
wherever you find 'em, an' they're pretty much alike all the Bay over,
and the world over, too, for that matter. We're not wantin' to quarrel
with you, Mr. Taft, but we jes' wish you wouldn't insinuate that them
oysters is yours an' that we're thieves an' robbers till you can prove
the goods."

"I know they're mine; I'd stake my life on it!" Mr. Taft snorted.

"Prove it," challenged the tall man, who we afterward learned was known
as "The Porpoise" because of his wonderful swimming abilities.

Mr. Taft shrugged his shoulders helplessly. Of course he could not prove
the oysters to be his, no matter how certain he might be.

"I'd give a thousand dollars to have you men behind the bars!" he cried.
"I'll give fifty dollars a head for your arrest and conviction, all of
you!"

A roar of laughter went up from the different boats, for the rest of the
pirates had been listening to the discussion.

"There's more money in oysters," the Porpoise remarked dryly.

Mr. Taft turned impatiently on his heel and walked away. From out of the
corner of his eye, Charley noted the way he went. Several minutes later,
when he had disappeared around a corner, Charley rose lazily to his
feet. I followed him, and we sauntered off in the opposite direction to
that taken by Mr. Taft.

"Come on! Lively!" Charley whispered, when we passed from the view of
the oyster fleet.

Our course was changed at once, and we dodged around corners and raced
up and down side-streets till Mr. Taft's generous form loomed up ahead
of us.

"I'm going to interview him about that reward," Charley explained, as
we rapidly overhauled the oyster-bed owner. "Neil will be delayed here
for a week, and you and I might as well be doing something in the
meantime. What do you say?"

"Of course, of course," Mr. Taft said, when Charley had introduced
himself and explained his errand. "Those thieves are robbing me of
thousands of dollars every year, and I shall be glad to break them up at
any price,--yes, sir, at any price. As I said, I'll give fifty dollars a
head, and call it cheap at that. They've robbed my beds, torn down my
signs, terrorized my watchmen, and last year killed one of them.
Couldn't prove it. All done in the blackness of night. All I had was a
dead watchman and no evidence. The detectives could do nothing. Nobody
has been able to do anything with those men. We have never succeeded in
arresting one of them. So I say, Mr.---- What did you say your name
was?"

"Le Grant," Charley answered.

"So I say, Mr. Le Grant, I am deeply obliged to you for the assistance
you offer. And I shall be glad, most glad, sir, to co-operate with you
in every way. My watchmen and boats are at your disposal. Come and see
me at the San Francisco offices any time, or telephone at my expense.
And don't be afraid of spending money. I'll foot your expenses,
whatever they are, so long as they are within reason. The situation is
growing desperate, and something must be done to determine whether I or
that band of ruffians own those oyster beds."

"Now we'll see Neil," Charley said, when he had seen Mr. Taft upon his
train to San Francisco.

Not only did Neil Partington interpose no obstacle to our adventure, but
he proved to be of the greatest assistance. Charley and I knew nothing
of the oyster industry, while his head was an encyclopædia of facts
concerning it. Also, within an hour or so, he was able to bring to us a
Greek boy of seventeen or eighteen who knew thoroughly well the ins and
outs of oyster piracy.

At this point I may as well explain that we of the fish patrol were
free lances in a way. While Neil Partington, who was a patrolman proper,
received a regular salary, Charley and I, being merely deputies,
received only what we earned--that is to say, a certain percentage of
the fines imposed on convicted violators of the fish laws. Also, any
rewards that chanced our way were ours. We offered to share with
Partington whatever we should get from Mr. Taft, but the patrolman
would not hear of it. He was only too happy, he said, to do a good turn
for us, who had done so many for him.

We held a long council of war, and mapped out the following line of
action. Our faces were unfamiliar on the Lower Bay, but as the
_Reindeer_ was well known as a fish-patrol sloop, the Greek boy, whose
name was Nicholas, and I were to sail some innocent-looking craft down
to Asparagus Island and join the oyster pirates' fleet. Here,
according to Nicholas's description of the beds and the manner of
raiding, it was possible for us to catch the pirates in the act of
stealing oysters, and at the same time to get them in our power.
Charley was to be on the shore, with Mr. Taft's watchmen and a posse
of constables, to help us at the right time.

"I know just the boat," Neil said, at the conclusion of the
discussion, "a crazy old sloop that's lying over at Tiburon. You and
Nicholas can go over by the ferry, charter it for a song, and sail
direct for the beds."

"Good luck be with you, boys," he said at parting, two days later.
"Remember, they are dangerous men, so be careful."

Nicholas and I succeeded in chartering the sloop very cheaply; and
between laughs, while getting up sail, we agreed that she was even
crazier and older than she had been described. She was a big,
flat-bottomed, square-sterned craft, sloop-rigged, with a sprung mast,
slack rigging, dilapidated sails, and rotten running-gear, clumsy to
handle and uncertain in bringing about, and she smelled vilely of coal
tar, with which strange stuff she had been smeared from stem to stern
and from cabin-roof to centreboard. And to cap it all, _Coal Tar
Maggie_ was printed in great white letters the whole length of either
side.

It was an uneventful though laughable run from Tiburon to Asparagus
Island, where we arrived in the afternoon of the following day. The
oyster pirates, a fleet of a dozen sloops, were lying at anchor on
what was known as the "Deserted Beds." The _Coal Tar Maggie_ came
sloshing into their midst with a light breeze astern, and they crowded
on deck to see us. Nicholas and I had caught the spirit of the crazy
craft, and we handled her in most lubberly fashion.

"Wot is it?" some one called.

"Name it 'n' ye kin have it!" called another.

"I swan naow, ef it ain't the old Ark itself!" mimicked the Centipede
from the deck of the _Ghost_.

"Hey! Ahoy there, clipper ship!" another wag shouted. "Wot's yer
port?"

We took no notice of the joking, but acted, after the manner of
greenhorns, as though the _Coal Tar Maggie_ required our undivided
attention. I rounded her well to windward of the _Ghost_, and Nicholas
ran for'ard to drop the anchor. To all appearances it was a bungle,
the way the chain tangled and kept the anchor from reaching the
bottom. And to all appearances Nicholas and I were terribly excited as
we strove to clear it. At any rate, we quite deceived the pirates, who
took huge delight in our predicament.

[Illustration: "The Centipede and the Porpoise doubled up on the cabin
in paroxysms of laughter."]

But the chain remained tangled, and amid all kinds of mocking advice
we drifted down upon and fouled the _Ghost_, whose bowsprit poked
square through our mainsail and ripped a hole in it as big as a barn
door. The Centipede and the Porpoise doubled up on the cabin in
paroxysms of laughter, and left us to get clear as best we could.
This, with much unseamanlike performance, we succeeded in doing, and
likewise in clearing the anchor-chain, of which we let out about three
hundred feet. With only ten feet of water under us, this would permit
the _Coal Tar Maggie_ to swing in a circle six hundred feet in
diameter, in which circle she would be able to foul at least half the
fleet.

The oyster pirates lay snugly together at short hawsers, the weather
being fine, and they protested loudly at our ignorance in putting out
such an unwarranted length of anchor-chain. And not only did they
protest, for they made us heave it in again, all but thirty feet.

Having sufficiently impressed them with our general lubberliness,
Nicholas and I went below to congratulate ourselves and to cook
supper. Hardly had we finished the meal and washed the dishes, when a
skiff ground against the _Coal Tar Maggie's_ side, and heavy feet
trampled on deck. Then the Centipede's brutal face appeared in the
companionway, and he descended into the cabin, followed by the
Porpoise. Before they could seat themselves on a bunk, another skiff
came alongside, and another, and another, till the whole fleet was
represented by the gathering in the cabin.

"Where'd you swipe the old tub?" asked a squat and hairy man, with
cruel eyes and Mexican features.

"Didn't swipe it," Nicholas answered, meeting them on their own ground
and encouraging the idea that we had stolen the _Coal Tar Maggie_.
"And if we did, what of it?"

"Well, I don't admire your taste, that's all," sneered he of the
Mexican features. "I'd rot on the beach first before I'd take a tub
that couldn't get out of its own way."

"How were we to know till we tried her?" Nicholas asked, so innocently
as to cause a laugh. "And how do you get the oysters?" he hurried on.
"We want a load of them; that's what we came for, a load of oysters."

"What d'ye want 'em for?" demanded the Porpoise.

"Oh, to give away to our friends, of course," Nicholas retorted.
"That's what you do with yours, I suppose."

This started another laugh, and as our visitors grew more genial we
could see that they had not the slightest suspicion of our identity or
purpose.

"Didn't I see you on the dock in Oakland the other day?" the Centipede
asked suddenly of me.

"Yep," I answered boldly, taking the bull by the horns. "I was
watching you fellows and figuring out whether we'd go oystering or
not. It's a pretty good business, I calculate, and so we're going in
for it. That is," I hastened to add, "if you fellows don't mind."

"I'll tell you one thing, which ain't two things," he replied, "and
that is you'll have to hump yerself an' get a better boat. We won't
stand to be disgraced by any such box as this. Understand?"

"Sure," I said. "Soon as we sell some oysters we'll outfit in style."

"And if you show yerself square an' the right sort," he went on, "why,
you kin run with us. But if you don't" (here his voice became stern
and menacing), "why, it'll be the sickest day of yer life.
Understand?"

"Sure," I said.

After that and more warning and advice of similar nature, the
conversation became general, and we learned that the beds were to be
raided that very night. As they got into their boats, after an hour's
stay, we were invited to join them in the raid with the assurance of
"the more the merrier."

"Did you notice that short, Mexican-looking chap?" Nicholas asked,
when they had departed to their various sloops. "He's Barchi, of the
Sporting Life Gang, and the fellow that came with him is Skilling.
They're both out now on five thousand dollars' bail."

I had heard of the Sporting Life Gang before, a crowd of hoodlums and
criminals that terrorized the lower quarters of Oakland, and
two-thirds of which were usually to be found in state's prison for
crimes that ranged from perjury and ballot-box stuffing to murder.

"They are not regular oyster pirates," Nicholas continued. "They've
just come down for the lark and to make a few dollars. But we'll have
to watch out for them."

We sat in the cockpit and discussed the details of our plan till
eleven o'clock had passed, when we heard the rattle of an oar in a
boat from the direction of the _Ghost_. We hauled up our own skiff,
tossed in a few sacks, and rowed over. There we found all the skiffs
assembling, it being the intention to raid the beds in a body.

To my surprise, I found barely a foot of water where we had dropped
anchor in ten feet. It was the big June run-out of the full moon, and
as the ebb had yet an hour and a half to run, I knew that our
anchorage would be dry ground before slack water.

Mr. Taft's beds were three miles away, and for a long time we rowed
silently in the wake of the other boats, once in a while grounding
and our oar blades constantly striking bottom. At last we came upon
soft mud covered with not more than two inches of water--not enough to
float the boats. But the pirates at once were over the side, and by
pushing and pulling on the flat-bottomed skiffs, we moved steadily
along.

The full moon was partly obscured by high-flying clouds, but the
pirates went their way with the familiarity born of long practice.
After half a mile of the mud, we came upon a deep channel, up which we
rowed, with dead oyster shoals looming high and dry on either side. At
last we reached the picking grounds. Two men, on one of the shoals,
hailed us and warned us off. But the Centipede, the Porpoise, Barchi,
and Skilling took the lead, and followed by the rest of us, at least
thirty men in half as many boats, rowed right up to the watchmen.

"You'd better slide outa this here," Barchi said threateningly, "or
we'll fill you so full of holes you wouldn't float in molasses."

The watchmen wisely retreated before so overwhelming a force, and
rowed their boat along the channel toward where the shore should be.
Besides, it was in the plan for them to retreat.

We hauled the noses of the boats up on the shore side of a big shoal,
and all hands, with sacks, spread out and began picking. Every now and
again the clouds thinned before the face of the moon, and we could see
the big oysters quite distinctly. In almost no time sacks were filled
and carried back to the boats, where fresh ones were obtained.
Nicholas and I returned often and anxiously to the boats with our
little loads, but always found some one of the pirates coming or
going.

"Never mind," he said; "no hurry. As they pick farther and farther
away, it will take too long to carry to the boats. Then they'll stand
the full sacks on end and pick them up when the tide comes in and the
skiffs will float to them."

Fully half an hour went by, and the tide had begun to flood, when this
came to pass. Leaving the pirates at their work, we stole back to the
boats. One by one, and noiselessly, we shoved them off and made them
fast in an awkward flotilla. Just as we were shoving off the last
skiff, our own, one of the men came upon us. It was Barchi. His quick
eye took in the situation at a glance, and he sprang for us; but we
went clear with a mighty shove, and he was left floundering in the
water over his head. As soon as he got back to the shoal he raised his
voice and gave the alarm.

We rowed with all our strength, but it was slow going with so many
boats in tow. A pistol cracked from the shoal, a second, and a third;
then a regular fusillade began. The bullets spat and spat all about
us; but thick clouds had covered the moon, and in the dim darkness it
was no more than random firing. It was only by chance that we could be
hit.

"Wish we had a little steam launch," I panted.

"I'd just as soon the moon stayed hidden," Nicholas panted back.

It was slow work, but every stroke carried us farther away from the
shoal and nearer the shore, till at last the shooting died down, and
when the moon did come out we were too far away to be in danger. Not
long afterward we answered a shoreward hail, and two Whitehall boats,
each pulled by three pairs of oars, darted up to us. Charley's welcome
face bent over to us, and he gripped us by the hands while he cried,
"Oh, you joys! You joys! Both of you!"

When the flotilla had been landed, Nicholas and I and a watchman rowed
out in one of the Whitehalls, with Charley in the stern-sheets. Two
other Whitehalls followed us, and as the moon now shone brightly, we
easily made out the oyster pirates on their lonely shoal. As we drew
closer, they fired a rattling volley from their revolvers, and we
promptly retreated beyond range.

"Lot of time," Charley said. "The flood is setting in fast, and by the
time it's up to their necks there won't be any fight left in them."

So we lay on our oars and waited for the tide to do its work. This was
the predicament of the pirates: because of the big run-out, the tide
was now rushing back like a mill-race, and it was impossible for the
strongest swimmer in the world to make against it the three miles to
the sloops. Between the pirates and the shore were we, precluding
escape in that direction. On the other hand, the water was rising
rapidly over the shoals, and it was only a question of a few hours
when it would be over their heads.

It was beautifully calm, and in the brilliant white moonlight we
watched them through our night glasses and told Charley of the voyage
of the _Coal Tar Maggie_. One o'clock came, and two o'clock, and the
pirates were clustering on the highest shoal, waist-deep in water.

"Now this illustrates the value of imagination," Charley was saying.
"Taft has been trying for years to get them, but he went at it with
bull strength and failed. Now we used our heads...."

Just then I heard a scarcely audible gurgle of water, and holding up
my hand for silence, I turned and pointed to a ripple slowly widening
out in a growing circle. It was not more than fifty feet from us. We
kept perfectly quiet and waited. After a minute the water broke six
feet away, and a black head and white shoulder showed in the
moonlight. With a snort of surprise and of suddenly expelled breath,
the head and shoulder went down.

We pulled ahead several strokes and drifted with the current. Four
pairs of eyes searched the surface of the water, but never another
ripple showed, and never another glimpse did we catch of the black
head and white shoulder.

"It's the Porpoise," Nicholas said. "It would take broad daylight for
us to catch him."

At a quarter to three the pirates gave their first sign of weakening.
We heard cries for help, in the unmistakable voice of the Centipede,
and this time, on rowing closer, we were not fired upon. The Centipede
was in a truly perilous plight. Only the heads and shoulders of his
fellow-marauders showed above the water as they braced themselves
against the current, while his feet were off the bottom and they were
supporting him.

"Now, lads," Charley said briskly, "we have got you, and you can't get
away. If you cut up rough, we'll have to leave you alone and the water
will finish you. But if you're good, we'll take you aboard, one man
at a time, and you'll all be saved. What do you say?"

"Ay," they chorused hoarsely between their chattering teeth.

"Then one man at a time, and the short men first."

The Centipede was the first to be pulled aboard, and he came
willingly, though he objected when the constable put the handcuffs on
him. Barchi was next hauled in, quite meek and resigned from his
soaking. When we had ten in our boat we drew back, and the second
Whitehall was loaded. The third Whitehall received nine prisoners
only--a catch of twenty-nine in all.

"You didn't get the Porpoise," the Centipede said exultantly, as
though his escape materially diminished our success.

Charley laughed. "But we saw him just the same, a-snorting for shore
like a puffing pig."

It was a mild and shivering band of pirates that we marched up the
beach to the oyster house. In answer to Charley's knock, the door was
flung open, and a pleasant wave of warm air rushed out upon us.

"You can dry your clothes here, lads, and get some hot coffee,"
Charley announced, as they filed in.

And there, sitting ruefully by the fire, with a steaming mug in his
hand, was the Porpoise. With one accord Nicholas and I looked at
Charley. He laughed gleefully.

"That comes of imagination," he said. "When you see a thing, you've
got to see it all around, or what's the good of seeing it at all? I
saw the beach, so I left a couple of constables behind to keep an eye
on it. That's all."



IV

THE SIEGE OF THE "LANCASHIRE QUEEN"


Possibly our most exasperating experience on the fish patrol was when
Charley Le Grant and I laid a two weeks' siege to a big four-masted
English ship. Before we had finished with the affair, it became a
pretty mathematical problem, and it was by the merest chance that we
came into possession of the instrument that brought it to a successful
termination.

After our raid on the oyster pirates we had returned to Oakland, where
two more weeks passed before Neil Partington's wife was out of danger
and on the highroad to recovery. So it was after an absence of a
month, all told, that we turned the _Reindeer's_ nose toward Benicia.
When the cat's away the mice will play, and in these four weeks the
fishermen had become very bold in violating the law. When we passed
Point Pedro we noticed many signs of activity among the
shrimp-catchers, and, well into San Pablo Bay, we observed a widely
scattered fleet of Upper Bay fishing-boats hastily pulling in their
nets and getting up sail.

This was suspicious enough to warrant investigation, and the first and
only boat we succeeded in boarding proved to have an illegal net. The
law permitted no smaller mesh for catching shad than one that measured
seven and one-half inches inside the knots, while the mesh of this
particular net measured only three inches. It was a flagrant breach of
the rules, and the two fishermen were forthwith put under arrest.
Neil Partington took one of them with him to help manage the
_Reindeer_, while Charley and I went on ahead with the other in the
captured boat.

But the shad fleet had headed over toward the Petaluma shore in wild
flight, and for the rest of the run through San Pablo Bay we saw no
more fishermen at all. Our prisoner, a bronzed and bearded Greek, sat
sullenly on his net while we sailed his craft. It was a new Columbia
River salmon boat, evidently on its first trip, and it handled
splendidly. Even when Charley praised it, our prisoner refused to
speak or to notice us, and we soon gave him up as a most unsociable
fellow.

We ran up the Carquinez Straits and edged into the bight at Turner's
Shipyard for smoother water. Here were lying several English steel
sailing ships, waiting for the wheat harvest; and here, most
unexpectedly, in the precise place where we had captured Big Alec, we
came upon two Italians in a skiff that was loaded with a complete
"Chinese" sturgeon line. The surprise was mutual, and we were on top
of them before either they or we were aware. Charley had barely time
to luff into the wind and run up to them. I ran forward and tossed
them a line with orders to make it fast. One of the Italians took a
turn with it over a cleat, while I hastened to lower our big
spritsail. This accomplished, the salmon boat dropped astern, dragging
heavily on the skiff.

Charley came forward to board the prize, but when I proceeded to haul
alongside by means of the line, the Italians cast it off. We at once
began drifting to leeward, while they got out two pairs of oars and
rowed their light craft directly into the wind. This manoeuvre for the
moment disconcerted us, for in our large and heavily loaded boat we
could not hope to catch them with the oars. But our prisoner came
unexpectedly to our aid. His black eyes were flashing eagerly, and his
face was flushed with suppressed excitement, as he dropped the
centreboard, sprang forward with a single leap, and put up the sail.

"I've always heard that Greeks don't like Italians," Charley laughed,
as he ran aft to the tiller.

And never in my experience have I seen a man so anxious for the
capture of another as was our prisoner in the chase that followed. His
eyes fairly snapped, and his nostrils quivered and dilated in a most
extraordinary way. Charley steered while he tended the sheet; and
though Charley was as quick and alert as a cat, the Greek could
hardly control his impatience.

The Italians were cut off from the shore, which was fully a mile away
at its nearest point. Did they attempt to make it, we could haul after
them with the wind abeam, and overtake them before they had covered an
eighth of the distance. But they were too wise to attempt it,
contenting themselves with rowing lustily to windward along the
starboard side of a big ship, the _Lancashire Queen_. But beyond the
ship lay an open stretch of fully two miles to the shore in that
direction. This, also, they dared not attempt, for we were bound to
catch them before they could cover it. So, when they reached the bow
of the _Lancashire Queen_, nothing remained but to pass around and row
down her port side toward the stern, which meant rowing to leeward and
giving us the advantage.

We in the salmon boat, sailing close on the wind, tacked about and
crossed the ship's bow. Then Charley put up the tiller and headed down
the port side of the ship, the Greek letting out the sheet and
grinning with delight. The Italians were already half-way down the
ship's length; but the stiff breeze at our back drove us after them
far faster than they could row. Closer and closer we came, and I,
lying down forward, was just reaching out to grasp the skiff, when it
ducked under the great stern of the _Lancashire Queen_.

The chase was virtually where it had begun. The Italians were rowing
up the starboard side of the ship, and we were hauled close on the
wind and slowly edging out from the ship as we worked to windward.
Then they darted around her bow and began the row down her port side,
and we tacked about, crossed her bow, and went plunging down the wind
hot after them. And again, just as I was reaching for the skiff, it
ducked under the ship's stern and out of danger. And so it went,
around and around, the skiff each time just barely ducking into
safety.

By this time the ship's crew had become aware of what was taking
place, and we could see their heads in a long row as they looked at us
over the bulwarks. Each time we missed the skiff at the stern, they
set up a wild cheer and dashed across to the other side of the
_Lancashire Queen_ to see the chase to windward. They showered us and
the Italians with jokes and advice, and made our Greek so angry that
at least once on each circuit he raised his fist and shook it at them
in a rage. They came to look for this, and at each display greeted it
with uproarious mirth.

"Wot a circus!" cried one.

"Tork about yer marine hippodromes,--if this ain't one, I'd like to
know!" affirmed another.

"Six-days-go-as-yer-please," announced a third. "Who says the dagoes
won't win?"

On the next tack to windward the Greek offered to change places with
Charley.

"Let-a me sail-a de boat," he demanded. "I fix-a them, I catch-a them,
sure."

This was a stroke at Charley's professional pride, for pride himself
he did upon his boat-sailing abilities; but he yielded the tiller to
the prisoner and took his place at the sheet. Three times again we
made the circuit, and the Greek found that he could get no more speed
out of the salmon boat than Charley had.

"Better give it up," one of the sailors advised from above.

The Greek scowled ferociously and shook his fist in his customary
fashion. In the meanwhile my mind had not been idle, and I had finally
evolved an idea.

"Keep going, Charley, one time more," I said.

And as we laid out on the next tack to windward, I bent a piece of
line to a small grappling hook I had seen lying in the bail-hole. The
end of the line I made fast to the ring-bolt in the bow, and with the
hook out of sight I waited for the next opportunity to use it. Once
more they made their leeward pull down the port side of the
_Lancashire Queen_, and more once we churned down after them before
the wind. Nearer and nearer we drew, and I was making believe to reach
for them as before. The stern of the skiff was not six feet away, and
they were laughing at me derisively as they ducked under the ship's
stern. At that instant I suddenly arose and threw the grappling iron.
It caught fairly and squarely on the rail of the skiff, which was
jerked backward out of safety as the rope tautened and the salmon boat
ploughed on.

A groan went up from the row of sailors above, which quickly changed
to a cheer as one of the Italians whipped out a long sheath-knife and
cut the rope. But we had drawn them out of safety, and Charley, from
his place in the stern-sheets, reached over and clutched the stern of
the skiff. The whole thing happened in a second of time, for the first
Italian was cutting the rope and Charley was clutching the skiff, when
the second Italian dealt him a rap over the head with an oar. Charley
released his hold and collapsed, stunned, into the bottom of the
salmon boat, and the Italians bent to their oars and escaped back
under the ship's stern.

The Greek took both tiller and sheet and continued the chase around
the _Lancashire Queen_, while I attended to Charley, on whose head a
nasty lump was rapidly rising. Our sailor audience was wild with
delight, and to a man encouraged the fleeing Italians. Charley sat up,
with one hand on his head, and gazed about him sheepishly.

"It will never do to let them escape now," he said, at the same time
drawing his revolver.

On our next circuit, he threatened the Italians with the weapon; but
they rowed on stolidly, keeping splendid stroke and utterly
disregarding him.

"If you don't stop, I'll shoot," Charley said menacingly.

[Illustration: "I suddenly arose and threw the grappling iron."]

But this had no effect, nor were they to be frightened into
surrendering even when he fired several shots dangerously close to
them. It was too much to expect him to shoot unarmed men, and this
they knew as well as we did; so they continued to pull doggedly round
and round the ship.

"We'll run them down, then!" Charley exclaimed. "We'll wear them out
and wind them!"

So the chase continued. Twenty times more we ran them around the
_Lancashire Queen_, and at last we could see that even their iron
muscles were giving out. They were nearly exhausted, and it was only a
matter of a few more circuits, when the game took on a new feature. On
the row to windward they always gained on us, so that they were
half-way down the ship's side on the row to leeward when we were
passing the bow. But this last time, as we passed the bow, we saw them
escaping up the ship's gangway, which had been suddenly lowered. It
was an organized move on the part of the sailors, evidently
countenanced by the captain; for by the time we arrived where the
gangway had been, it was being hoisted up, and the skiff, slung in the
ship's davits, was likewise flying aloft out of reach.

The parley that followed with the captain was short and snappy. He
absolutely forbade us to board the _Lancashire Queen_, and as
absolutely refused to give up the two men. By this time Charley was as
enraged as the Greek. Not only had he been foiled in a long and
ridiculous chase, but he had been knocked senseless into the bottom of
his boat by the men who had escaped him.

"Knock off my head with little apples," he declared emphatically,
striking the fist of one hand into the palm of the other, "if those
two men ever escape me! I'll stay here to get them if it takes the
rest of my natural life, and if I don't get them, then I promise you
I'll live unnaturally long or until I do get them, or my name's not
Charley Le Grant!"

And then began the siege of the _Lancashire Queen_, a siege memorable
in the annals of both fishermen and fish patrol. When the _Reindeer_
came along, after a fruitless pursuit of the shad fleet, Charley
instructed Neil Partington to send out his own salmon boat, with
blankets, provisions, and a fisherman's charcoal stove. By sunset this
exchange of boats was made, and we said good-by to our Greek, who
perforce had to go into Benicia and be locked up for his own
violation of the law. After supper, Charley and I kept alternate
four-hour watches till daylight. The fishermen made no attempt to
escape that night, though the ship sent out a boat for scouting
purposes to find if the coast were clear.

By the next day we saw that a steady siege was in order, and we
perfected our plans with an eye to our own comfort. A dock, known as
the Solano Wharf, which ran out from the Benicia shore, helped us in
this. It happened that the _Lancashire Queen_, the shore at Turner's
Shipyard, and the Solano Wharf were the corners of a big equilateral
triangle. From ship to shore, the side of the triangle along which the
Italians had to escape, was a distance equal to that from the Solano
Wharf to the shore, the side of the triangle along which we had to
travel to get to the shore before the Italians. But as we could sail
much faster than they could row, we could permit them to travel about
half their side of the triangle before we darted out along our side.
If we allowed them to get more than half-way, they were certain to
beat us to shore; while if we started before they were half-way, they
were equally certain to beat us back to the ship.

We found that an imaginary line, drawn from the end of the wharf to a
windmill farther along the shore, cut precisely in half the line of
the triangle along which the Italians must escape to reach the land.
This line made it easy for us to determine how far to let them run
away before we bestirred ourselves in pursuit. Day after day we would
watch them through our glasses as they rowed leisurely along toward
the half-way point; and as they drew close into line with the
windmill, we would leap into the boat and get up sail. At sight of our
preparation, they would turn and row slowly back to the _Lancashire
Queen_, secure in the knowledge that we could not overtake them.

To guard against calms--when our salmon boat would be useless--we also
had in readiness a light rowing skiff equipped with spoon-oars. But at
such times, when the wind failed us, we were forced to row out from
the wharf as soon as they rowed from the ship. In the night-time, on
the other hand, we were compelled to patrol the immediate vicinity of
the ship; which we did, Charley and I standing four-hour watches turn
and turn about. The Italians, however, preferred the daytime in which
to escape, and so our long night vigils were without result.

"What makes me mad," said Charley, "is our being kept from our honest
beds while those rascally lawbreakers are sleeping soundly every
night. But much good may it do them," he threatened. "I'll keep them
on that ship till the captain charges them board, as sure as a
sturgeon's not a catfish!"

It was a tantalizing problem that confronted us. As long as we were
vigilant, they could not escape; and as long as they were careful, we
would be unable to catch them. Charley cudgelled his brains
continually, but for once his imagination failed him. It was a problem
apparently without other solution than that of patience. It was a
waiting game, and whichever waited the longer was bound to win. To add
to our irritation, friends of the Italians established a code of
signals with them from the shore, so that we never dared relax the
siege for a moment. And besides this, there were always one or two
suspicious-looking fishermen hanging around the Solano Wharf and
keeping watch on our actions. We could do nothing but "grin and bear
it," as Charley said, while it took up all our time and prevented us
from doing other work.

The days went by, and there was no change in the situation. Not that
no attempts were made to change it. One night friends from the shore
came out in a skiff and attempted to confuse us while the two Italians
escaped. That they did not succeed was due to the lack of a little oil
on the ship's davits. For we were drawn back from the pursuit of the
strange boat by the creaking of the davits, and arrived at the
_Lancashire Queen_ just as the Italians were lowering their skiff.
Another night, fully half a dozen skiffs rowed around us in the
darkness, but we held on like a leech to the side of the ship and
frustrated their plan till they grew angry and showered us with abuse.
Charley laughed to himself in the bottom of the boat.

"It's a good sign, lad," he said to me. "When men begin to abuse, make
sure they're losing patience; and shortly after they lose patience,
they lose their heads. Mark my words, if we only hold out, they'll get
careless some fine day, and then we'll get them."

But they did not grow careless, and Charley confessed that this was
one of the times when all signs failed. Their patience seemed equal to
ours, and the second week of the siege dragged monotonously along.
Then Charley's lagging imagination quickened sufficiently to suggest
a ruse. Peter Boyelen, a new patrolman and one unknown to the
fisher-folk, happened to arrive in Benicia, and we took him into our
plan. We were as secret as possible about it, but in some unfathomable
way the friends ashore got word to the beleaguered Italians to keep
their eyes open.

On the night we were to put our ruse into effect, Charley and I took
up our usual station in our rowing skiff alongside the _Lancashire
Queen_. After it was thoroughly dark, Peter Boyelen came out in a
crazy duck boat, the kind you can pick up and carry away under one
arm. When we heard him coming along, paddling noisily, we slipped away
a short distance into the darkness and rested on our oars. Opposite
the gangway, having jovially hailed the anchor-watch of the
_Lancashire Queen_ and asked the direction of the _Scottish Chiefs_,
another wheat ship, he awkwardly capsized himself. The man who was
standing the anchor-watch ran down the gangway and hauled him out of
the water. This was what he wanted, to get aboard the ship; and the
next thing he expected was to be taken on deck and then below to warm
up and dry out. But the captain inhospitably kept him perched on the
lowest gangway step, shivering miserably and with his feet dangling in
the water, till we, out of very pity, rowed in from the darkness and
took him off. The jokes and gibes of the awakened crew sounded
anything but sweet in our ears, and even the two Italians climbed up
on the rail and laughed down at us long and maliciously.

"That's all right," Charley said in a low voice, which I only could
hear. "I'm mighty glad it's not us that's laughing first. We'll save
our laugh to the end, eh, lad?"

He clapped a hand on my shoulder as he finished, but it seemed to me
that there was more determination than hope in his voice.

It would have been possible for us to secure the aid of United States
marshals and board the English ship, backed by government authority.
But the instructions of the Fish Commission were to the effect that
the patrolmen should avoid complications, and this one, did we call on
the higher powers, might well end in a pretty international tangle.

The second week of the siege drew to its close, and there was no sign
of change in the situation. On the morning of the fourteenth day the
change came, and it came in a guise as unexpected and startling to us
as it was to the men we were striving to capture.

Charley and I, after our customary night vigil by the side of the
_Lancashire Queen_, rowed into the Solano Wharf.

"Hello!" cried Charley, in surprise. "In the name of reason and common
sense, what is that? Of all unmannerly craft did you ever see the
like?"

Well might he exclaim, for there, tied up to the dock, lay the
strangest-looking launch I had ever seen. Not that it could be called
a launch, either, but it seemed to resemble a launch more than any
other kind of boat. It was seventy feet long, but so narrow was it,
and so bare of superstructure, that it appeared much smaller than it
really was. It was built wholly of steel, and was painted black. Three
smokestacks, a good distance apart and raking well aft, arose in
single file amidships; while the bow, long and lean and sharp as a
knife, plainly advertised that the boat was made for speed. Passing
under the stern, we read _Streak_, painted in small white letters.

Charley and I were consumed with curiosity. In a few minutes we were
on board and talking with an engineer who was watching the sunrise
from the deck. He was quite willing to satisfy our curiosity, and in a
few minutes we learned that the _Streak_ had come in after dark from
San Francisco; that this was what might be called the trial trip; and
that she was the property of Silas Tate, a young mining millionaire of
California, whose fad was high-speed yachts. There was some talk about
turbine engines, direct application of steam, and the absence of
pistons, rods, and cranks,--all of which was beyond me, for I was
familiar only with sailing craft; but I did understand the last words
of the engineer.

"Four thousand horse-power and forty-five miles an hour, though you
wouldn't think it," he concluded proudly.

"Say it again, man! Say it again!" Charley exclaimed in an excited
voice.

"Four thousand horse-power and forty-five miles an hour," the engineer
repeated, grinning good-naturedly.

"Where's the owner?" was Charley's next question. "Is there any way I
can speak to him?"

The engineer shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. He's asleep, you
see."

At that moment a young man in blue uniform came on deck farther aft
and stood regarding the sunrise.

"There he is, that's him, that's Mr. Tate," said the engineer.

Charley walked aft and spoke to him, and while he talked earnestly the
young man listened with an amused expression on his face. He must have
inquired about the depth of water close in to the shore at Turner's
Shipyard, for I could see Charley making gestures and explaining. A
few minutes later he came back in high glee.

"Come on, lad," he said. "On to the dock with you. We've got them!"

It was our good fortune to leave the _Streak_ when we did, for a
little later one of the spy fishermen appeared. Charley and I took up
our accustomed places, on the stringer-piece, a little ahead of the
_Streak_ and over our own boat, where we could comfortably watch the
_Lancashire Queen_. Nothing occurred till about nine o'clock, when we
saw the two Italians leave the ship and pull along their side of the
triangle toward the shore. Charley looked as unconcerned as could be,
but before they had covered a quarter of the distance, he whispered to
me:

"Forty-five miles an hour...nothing can save them...they are ours!"

Slowly the two men rowed along till they were nearly in line with the
windmill. This was the point where we always jumped into our salmon
boat and got up the sail, and the two men, evidently expecting it,
seemed surprised when we gave no sign.

When they were directly in line with the windmill, as near to the
shore as to the ship, and nearer the shore than we had ever allowed
them before, they grew suspicious. We followed them through the
glasses, and saw them standing up in the skiff and trying to find out
what we were doing. The spy fisherman, sitting beside us on the
stringerpiece, was likewise puzzled. He could not understand our
inactivity. The men in the skiff rowed nearer the shore, but stood up
again and scanned it, as if they thought we might be in hiding there.
But a man came out on the beach and waved a handkerchief to indicate
that the coast was clear. That settled them. They bent to the oars to
make a dash for it. Still Charley waited. Not until they had covered
three-quarters of the distance from the _Lancashire Queen_, which left
them hardly more than a quarter of a mile to gain the shore, did
Charley slap me on the shoulder and cry:

"They're ours! They're ours!"

We ran the few steps to the side of the _Streak_ and jumped aboard.
Stern and bow lines were cast off in a jiffy. The _Streak_ shot ahead
and away from the wharf. The spy fisherman we had left behind on the
stringer-piece pulled out a revolver and fired five shots into the air
in rapid succession. The men in the skiff gave instant heed to the
warning, for we could see them pulling away like mad.

But if they pulled like mad, I wonder how our progress can be
described? We fairly flew. So frightful was the speed with which we
displaced the water, that a wave rose up on either side our bow and
foamed aft in a series of three stiff, up-standing waves, while astern
a great crested billow pursued us hungrily, as though at each moment
it would fall aboard and destroy us. The _Streak_ was pulsing and
vibrating and roaring like a thing alive. The wind of our progress was
like a gale--a forty-five-mile gale. We could not face it and draw
breath without choking and strangling. It blew the smoke straight
back from the mouths of the smoke-stacks at a direct right angle to
the perpendicular. In fact, we were travelling as fast as an express
train. "We just _streaked_ it," was the way Charley told it afterward,
and I think his description comes nearer than any I can give.

As for the Italians in the skiff--hardly had we started, it seemed to
me, when we were on top of them. Naturally, we had to slow down long
before we got to them; but even then we shot past like a whirlwind and
were compelled to circle back between them and the shore. They had
rowed steadily, rising from the thwarts at every stroke, up to the
moment we passed them, when they recognized Charley and me. That took
the last bit of fight out of them. They hauled in their oars and
sullenly submitted to arrest.

"Well, Charley," Neil Partington said, as we discussed it on the wharf
afterward, "I fail to see where your boasted imagination came into
play this time."

But Charley was true to his hobby. "Imagination?" he demanded,
pointing to the _Streak_. "Look at that! Just look at it! If the
invention of that isn't imagination, I should like to know what is."

"Of course," he added, "it's the other fellow's imagination, but it
did the work all the same."



V

CHARLEY'S COUP


Perhaps our most laughable exploit on the fish patrol, and at the same
time our most dangerous one, was when we rounded in, at a single haul,
an even score of wrathful fishermen. Charley called it a "coop,"
having heard Neil Partington use the term; but I think he
misunderstood the word, and thought it meant "coop," to catch, to
trap. The fishermen, however, coup or coop, must have called it a
Waterloo, for it was the severest stroke ever dealt them by the fish
patrol, while they had invited it by open and impudent defiance of the
law.

During what is called the "open season" the fishermen might catch as
many salmon as their luck allowed and their boats could hold. But
there was one important restriction. From sun-down Saturday night to
sun-up Monday morning, they were not permitted to set a net. This was
a wise provision on the part of the Fish Commission, for it was
necessary to give the spawning salmon some opportunity to ascend the
river and lay their eggs. And this law, with only an occasional
violation, had been obediently observed by the Greek fishermen who
caught salmon for the canneries and the market.

One Sunday morning, Charley received a telephone call from a friend in
Collinsville, who told him that the full force of fishermen was out
with its nets. Charley and I jumped into our salmon boat and started
for the scene of the trouble. With a light favoring wind at our back
we went through the Carquinez Straits, crossed Suisun Bay, passed the
Ship Island Light, and came upon the whole fleet at work.

But first let me describe the method by which they worked. The net
used is what is known as a gill-net. It has a simple diamond-shaped
mesh which measures at least seven and one-half inches between the
knots. From five to seven and even eight hundred feet in length, these
nets are only a few feet wide. They are not stationary, but float with
the current, the upper edge supported on the surface by floats, the
lower edge sunk by means of leaden weights.

This arrangement keeps the net upright in the current and effectually
prevents all but the smaller fish from ascending the river. The
salmon, swimming near the surface, as is their custom, run their heads
through these meshes, and are prevented from going on through by their
larger girth of body, and from going back because of their gills,
which catch in the mesh. It requires two fishermen to set such a
net,--one to row the boat, while the other, standing in the stern,
carefully pays out the net. When it is all out, stretching directly
across the stream, the men make their boat fast to one end of the net
and drift along with it.

As we came upon the fleet of law-breaking fishermen, each boat two or
three hundred yards from its neighbors, and boats and nets dotting the
river as far as we could see, Charley said:

"I've only one regret, lad, and that is that I haven't a thousand arms
so as to be able to catch them all. As it is, we'll only be able to
catch one boat, for while we are tackling that one it will be up nets
and away with the rest."

As we drew closer, we observed none of the usual flurry and
excitement which our appearance invariably produced. Instead, each
boat lay quietly by its net, while the fishermen favored us with not
the slightest attention.

"It's curious," Charley muttered. "Can it be they don't recognize us?"

I said that it was impossible, and Charley agreed; yet there was a
whole fleet, manned by men who knew us only too well, and who took no
more notice of us than if we were a hay scow or a pleasure yacht.

This did not continue to be the case, however, for as we bore down
upon the nearest net, the men to whom it belonged detached their boat
and rowed slowly toward the shore. The rest of the boats showed no
sign of uneasiness.

"That's funny," was Charley's remark. "But we can confiscate the net,
at any rate."

We lowered sail, picked up one end of the net, and began to heave it
into the boat. But at the first heave we heard a bullet zip-zipping
past us on the water, followed by the faint report of a rifle. The men
who had rowed ashore were shooting at us. At the next heave a second
bullet went zipping past, perilously near. Charley took a turn around
a pin and sat down. There were no more shots. But as soon as he began
to heave in, the shooting recommenced.

"That settles it," he said, flinging the end of the net overboard.
"You fellows want it worse than we do, and you can have it."

We rowed over toward the next net, for Charley was intent on finding
out whether or not we were face to face with an organized defiance. As
we approached, the two fishermen proceeded to cast off from their net
and row ashore, while the first two rowed back and made fast to the
net we had abandoned. And at the second net we were greeted by rifle
shots till we desisted and went on to the third, where the manoeuvre
was again repeated.

Then we gave it up, completely routed, and hoisted sail and started on
the long wind-ward beat back to Benicia. A number of Sundays went by,
on each of which the law was persistently violated. Yet, short of an
armed force of soldiers, we could do nothing. The fishermen had hit
upon a new idea and were using it for all it was worth, while there
seemed no way by which we could get the better of them.

About this time Neil Partington happened along from the Lower Bay,
where he had been for a number of weeks. With him was Nicholas, the
Greek boy who had helped us in our raid on the oyster pirates, and
the pair of them took a hand. We made our arrangements carefully. It
was planned that while Charley and I tackled the nets, they were to be
hidden ashore so as to ambush the fishermen who landed to shoot at us.

It was a pretty plan. Even Charley said it was. But we reckoned not
half so well as the Greeks. They forestalled us by ambushing Neil and
Nicholas and taking them prisoners, while, as of old, bullets whistled
about our ears when Charley and I attempted to take possession of the
nets. When we were again beaten off, Neil Partington and Nicholas were
released. They were rather shamefaced when they put in an appearance,
and Charley chaffed them unmercifully. But Neil chaffed back,
demanding to know why Charley's imagination had not long since
overcome the difficulty.

"Just you wait; the idea'll come all right," Charley promised.

"Most probably," Neil agreed. "But I'm afraid the salmon will be
exterminated first, and then there will be no need for it when it does
come."

Neil Partington, highly disgusted with his adventure, departed for the
Lower Bay, taking Nicholas with him, and Charley and I were left to
our own resources. This meant that the Sunday fishing would be left to
itself, too, until such time as Charley's idea happened along. I
puzzled my head a good deal to find out some way of checkmating the
Greeks, as also did Charley, and we broached a thousand expedients
which on discussion proved worthless.

The fishermen, on the other hand, were in high feather, and their
boasts went up and down the river to add to our discomfiture. Among
all classes of them we became aware of a growing insubordination. We
were beaten, and they were losing respect for us. With the loss of
respect, contempt began to arise. Charley began to be spoken of as the
"olda woman," and I received my rating as the "pee-wee kid." The
situation was fast becoming unbearable, and we knew that we should
have to deliver a stunning stroke at the Greeks in order to regain the
old-time respect in which we had stood.

Then one morning the idea came. We were down on Steamboat Wharf, where
the river steamers made their landings, and where we found a group of
amused long-shoremen and loafers listening to the hard-luck tale of a
sleepy-eyed young fellow in long sea-boots. He was a sort of amateur
fisherman, he said, fishing for the local market of Berkeley. Now
Berkeley was on the Lower Bay, thirty miles away. On the previous
night, he said, he had set his net and dozed off to sleep in the
bottom of the boat.

The next he knew it was morning, and he opened his eyes to find his
boat rubbing softly against the piles of Steamboat Wharf at Benicia.
Also he saw the river steamer _Apache_ lying ahead of him, and a
couple of deck-hands disentangling the shreds of his net from the
paddle-wheel. In short, after he had gone to sleep, his fisherman's
riding light had gone out, and the _Apache_ had run over his net.
Though torn pretty well to pieces, the net in some way still remained
foul, and he had had a thirty-mile tow out of his course.

Charley nudged me with his elbow. I grasped his thought on the
instant, but objected:

"We can't charter a steamboat."

"Don't intend to," he rejoined. "But let's run over to Turner's
Shipyard. I've something in my mind there that may be of use to us."

And over we went to the shipyard, where Charley led the way to the
_Mary Rebecca_, lying hauled out on the ways, where she was being
cleaned and overhauled. She was a scow-schooner we both knew well,
carrying a cargo of one hundred and forty tons and a spread of canvas
greater than any other schooner on the bay.

"How d'ye do, Ole," Charley greeted a big blue-shirted Swede who was
greasing the jaws of the main gaff with a piece of pork rind.

Ole grunted, puffed away at his pipe, and went on greasing. The
captain of a bay schooner is supposed to work with his hands just as
well as the men.

Ole Ericsen verified Charley's conjecture that the _Mary Rebecca_, as
soon as launched, would run up the San Joaquin River nearly to
Stockton for a load of wheat. Then Charley made his proposition, and
Ole Ericsen shook his head.

"Just a hook, one good-sized hook," Charley pleaded.

"No, Ay tank not," said Ole Ericsen. "Der _Mary Rebecca_ yust hang up
on efery mud-bank with that hook. Ay don't want to lose der _Mary
Rebecca_. She's all Ay got."

"No, no," Charley hurried to explain. "We can put the end of the hook
through the bottom from the outside, and fasten it on the inside with
a nut. After it's done its work, why, all we have to do is to go down
into the hold, unscrew the nut, and out drops the hook. Then drive a
wooden peg into the hole, and the _Mary Rebecca_ will be all right
again."

Ole Ericsen was obstinate for a long time; but in the end, after we
had had dinner with him, he was brought round to consent.

"Ay do it, by Yupiter!" he said, striking one huge fist into the palm
of the other hand. "But yust hurry you up with der hook. Der _Mary
Rebecca_ slides into der water to-night."

It was Saturday, and Charley had need to hurry. We headed for the
shipyard blacksmith shop, where, under Charley's directions, a most
generously curved hook of heavy steel was made. Back we hastened to
the _Mary Rebecca_. Aft of the great centre-board case, through what
was properly her keel, a hole was bored. The end of the hook was
inserted from the outside, and Charley, on the inside, screwed the nut
on tightly. As it stood complete, the hook projected over a foot
beneath the bottom of the schooner. Its curve was something like the
curve of a sickle, but deeper.

In the late afternoon the _Mary Rebecca_ was launched, and
preparations were finished for the start up-river next morning.
Charley and Ole intently studied the evening sky for signs of wind,
for without a good breeze our project was doomed to failure. They
agreed that there were all the signs of a stiff westerly wind--not the
ordinary afternoon sea-breeze, but a half-gale, which even then was
springing up.

Next morning found their predictions verified. The sun was shining
brightly, but something more than a half-gale was shrieking up the
Carquinez Straits, and the _Mary Rebecca_ got under way with two reefs
in her mainsail and one in her foresail. We found it quite rough in
the Straits and in Suisun Bay; but as the water grew more land-locked
it became calm, though without let-up in the wind.

Off Ship Island Light the reefs were shaken out, and at Charley's
suggestion a big fisherman's staysail was made all ready for hoisting,
and the main-topsail, bunched into a cap at the masthead, was
overhauled so that it could be set on an instant's notice.

We were tearing along, wing-and-wing, before the wind, foresail to
starboard and mainsail to port, as we came upon the salmon fleet.
There they were, boats and nets, as on that first Sunday when they had
bested us, strung out evenly over the river as far as we could see. A
narrow space on the right-hand side of the channel was left clear for
steam-boats, but the rest of the river was covered with the
wide-stretching nets. The narrow space was our logical course, but
Charley, at the wheel, steered the _Mary Rebecca_ straight for the
nets.

This did not cause any alarm among the fishermen, because up-river
sailing craft are always provided with "shoes" on the ends of their
keels, which permit them to slip over the nets without fouling them.

"Now she takes it!" Charley cried, as we dashed across the middle of a
line of floats which marked a net. At one end of this line was a small
barrel buoy, at the other the two fishermen in their boat. Buoy and
boat at once began to draw together, and the fishermen to cry out, as
they were jerked after us. A couple of minutes later we hooked a
second net, and then a third, and in this fashion we tore straight up
through the centre of the fleet.

The consternation we spread among the fishermen was tremendous. As
fast as we hooked a net the two ends of it, buoy and boat, came
together as they dragged out astern; and so many buoys and boats,
coming together at such breakneck speed, kept the fishermen on the
jump to avoid smashing into one another. Also, they shouted at us like
mad to heave to into the wind, for they took it as some drunken prank
on the part of scow-sailors, little dreaming that we were the fish
patrol.

The drag of a single net is very heavy, and Charley and Ole Ericsen
decided that even in such a wind ten nets were all the _Mary Rebecca_
could take along with her. So when we had hooked ten nets, with ten
boats containing twenty men streaming along behind us, we veered to
the left out of the fleet and headed toward Collinsville.

We were all jubilant. Charley was handling the wheel as though he were
steering the winning yacht home in a race. The two sailors who made up
the crew of the _Mary Rebecca_, were grinning and joking. Ole
Ericsen was rubbing his huge hands in child-like glee.

[Illustration: "The consternation we spread among the fishermen was
tremendous."]

"Ay tank you fish patrol fallers never ban so lucky as when you sail
with Ole Ericsen," he was saying, when a rifle cracked sharply astern,
and a bullet gouged along the newly painted cabin, glanced on a nail,
and sang shrilly onward into space.

This was too much for Ole Ericsen. At sight of his beloved paintwork
thus defaced, he jumped up and shook his fist at the fishermen; but a
second bullet smashed into the cabin not six inches from his head, and
he dropped down to the deck under cover of the rail.

All the fishermen had rifles, and they now opened a general fusillade.
We were all driven to cover--even Charley, who was compelled to desert
the wheel. Had it not been for the heavy drag of the nets, we would
inevitably have broached to at the mercy of the enraged fishermen. But
the nets, fastened to the bottom of the _Mary Rebecca_ well aft, held
her stern into the wind, and she continued to plough on, though
somewhat erratically.

Charley, lying on the deck, could just manage to reach the lower
spokes of the wheel; but while he could steer after a fashion, it was
very awkward. Ole Ericsen bethought himself of a large piece of sheet
steel in the empty hold. It was in fact a plate from the side of the
_New Jersey_, a steamer which had recently been wrecked outside the
Golden Gate, and in the salving of which the _Mary Rebecca_ had taken
part.

Crawling carefully along the deck, the two sailors, Ole, and myself
got the heavy plate on deck and aft, where we reared it as a shield
between the wheel and the fishermen. The bullets whanged and banged
against it till it rang like a bull's-eye, but Charley grinned in its
shelter, and coolly went on steering.

So we raced along, behind us a howling, screaming bedlam of wrathful
Greeks, Collinsville ahead, and bullets spat-spatting all around us.

"Ole," Charley said in a faint voice, "I don't know what we're going
to do."

Ole Ericsen, lying on his back close to the rail and grinning upward
at the sky, turned over on his side and looked at him. "Ay tank we go
into Collinsville yust der same," he said.

"But we can't stop," Charley groaned. "I never thought of it, but we
can't stop."

A look of consternation slowly overspread Ole Ericsen's broad face. It
was only too true. We had a hornet's nest on our hands, and to stop
at Collinsville would be to have it about our ears.

"Every man Jack of them has a gun," one of the sailors remarked
cheerfully.

"Yes, and a knife, too," the other sailor added.

It was Ole Ericsen's turn to groan. "What for a Svaidish faller like
me monkey with none of my biziness, I don't know," he soliloquized.

A bullet glanced on the stern and sang off to starboard like a
spiteful bee. "There's nothing to do but plump the _Mary Rebecca_
ashore and run for it," was the verdict of the first cheerful sailor.

"And leaf der _Mary Rebecca_?" Ole demanded, with unspeakable horror
in his voice.

"Not unless you want to," was the response. "But I don't want to be
within a thousand miles of her when those fellers come
aboard"--indicating the bedlam of excited Greeks towing behind.

We were right in at Collinsville then, and went foaming by within
biscuit-toss of the wharf.

"I only hope the wind holds out," Charley said, stealing a glance at
our prisoners.

"What of der wind?" Ole demanded disconsolately. "Der river will not
hold out, and then...and then..."

"It's head for tall timber, and the Greeks take the hindermost,"
adjudged the cheerful sailor, while Ole was stuttering over what would
happen when we came to the end of the river.

We had now reached a dividing of the ways. To the left was the mouth
of the Sacramento River, to the right the mouth of the San Joaquin.
The cheerful sailor crept forward and jibed over the foresail as
Charley put the helm to starboard and we swerved to the right into
the San Joaquin. The wind, from which we had been running away on an
even keel, now caught us on our beam, and the _Mary Rebecca_ was
pressed down on her port side as if she were about to capsize.

Still we dashed on, and still the fishermen dashed on behind. The
value of their nets was greater than the fines they would have to pay
for violating the fish laws; so to cast off from their nets and
escape, which they could easily do, would profit them nothing.
Further, they remained by their nets instinctively, as a sailor
remains by his ship. And still further, the desire for vengeance was
roused, and we could depend upon it that they would follow us to the
ends of the earth, if we undertook to tow them that far.

The rifle-firing had ceased, and we looked astern to see what our
prisoners were doing. The boats were strung along at unequal
distances apart, and we saw the four nearest ones bunching together.
This was done by the boat ahead trailing a small rope astern to the
one behind. When this was caught, they would cast off from their net
and heave in on the line till they were brought up to the boat in
front. So great was the speed at which we were travelling, however,
that this was very slow work. Sometimes the men would strain to their
utmost and fail to get in an inch of the rope; at other times they
came ahead more rapidly.

When the four boats were near enough together for a man to pass from
one to another, one Greek from each of three got into the nearest boat
to us, taking his rifle with him. This made five in the foremost boat,
and it was plain that their intention was to board us. This they
undertook to do, by main strength and sweat, running hand over hand
the float-line of a net. And though it was slow, and they stopped
frequently to rest, they gradually drew nearer.

Charley smiled at their efforts, and said, "Give her the topsail,
Ole."

The cap at the mainmast head was broken out, and sheet and downhaul
pulled flat, amid a scattering rifle fire from the boats; and the
_Mary Rebecca_ lay over and sprang ahead faster than ever.

But the Greeks were undaunted. Unable, at the increased speed, to draw
themselves nearer by means of their hands, they rigged from the blocks
of their boat sail what sailors call a "watch-tackle." One of them,
held by the legs by his mates, would lean far over the bow and make
the tackle fast to the float-line. Then they would heave in on the
tackle till the blocks were together, when the manoeuvre would be
repeated.

"Have to give her the staysail," Charley said.

Ole Ericsen looked at the straining _Mary Rebecca_ and shook his head.
"It will take der masts out of her," he said.

"And we'll be taken out of her if you don't," Charley replied.

Ole shot an anxious glance at his masts, another at the boat load of
armed Greeks, and consented.

The five men were in the bow of the boat--a bad place when a craft is
towing. I was watching the behavior of their boat as the great
fisherman's staysail, far, far larger than the topsail and used only
in light breezes, was broken out. As the _Mary Rebecca_ lurched
forward with a tremendous jerk, the nose of the boat ducked down into
the water, and the men tumbled over one another in a wild rush into
the stern to save the boat from being dragged sheer under water.

"That settles them!" Charley remarked, though he was anxiously
studying the behavior of the _Mary Rebecca_, which was being driven
under far more canvas than she was rightly able to carry.

"Next stop is Antioch!" announced the cheerful sailor, after the
manner of a railway conductor. "And next comes Merryweather!"

"Come here, quick," Charley said to me.

I crawled across the deck and stood upright beside him in the shelter
of the sheet steel.

"Feel in my inside pocket," he commanded, "and get my notebook. That's
right. Tear out a blank page and write what I tell you."

And this is what I wrote:

      Telephone to Merryweather, to the sheriff, the
      constable, or the judge. Tell them we are coming and
      to turn out the town. Arm everybody. Have them down on
      the wharf to meet us or we are gone gooses.

"Now make it good and fast to that marlinspike, and stand by to toss
it ashore."

I did as he directed. By then we were close to Antioch. The wind was
shouting through our rigging, the _Mary Rebecca_ was half over on her
side and rushing ahead like an ocean greyhound. The seafaring folk of
Antioch had seen us breaking out topsail and staysail, a most reckless
performance in such weather, and had hurried to the wharf-ends in
little groups to find out what was the matter.

Straight down the water front we boomed, Charley edging in till a man
could almost leap ashore. When he gave the signal I tossed the
marlinspike. It struck the planking of the wharf a resounding smash,
bounced along fifteen or twenty feet, and was pounced upon by the
amazed onlookers.

It all happened in a flash, for the next minute Antioch was behind and
we were heeling it up the San Joaquin toward Merryweather, six miles
away. The river straightened out here into its general easterly
course, and we squared away before the wind, wing-and-wing once more,
the foresail bellying out to starboard.

Ole Ericsen seemed sunk into a state of stolid despair. Charley and
the two sailors were looking hopeful, as they had good reason to be.
Merryweather was a coal-mining town, and, it being Sunday, it was
reasonable to expect the men to be in town. Further, the coal-miners
had never lost any love for the Greek fishermen, and were pretty
certain to render us hearty assistance.

We strained our eyes for a glimpse of the town, and the first sight we
caught of it gave us immense relief. The wharves were black with men.
As we came closer, we could see them still arriving, stringing down
the main street, guns in their hands and on the run. Charley glanced
astern at the fishermen with a look of ownership in his eye which till
then had been missing. The Greeks were plainly overawed by the display
of armed strength and were putting their own rifles away.

We took in topsail and staysail, dropped the main peak, and as we got
abreast of the principal wharf jibed the mainsail. The _Mary Rebecca_
shot around into the wind, the captive fishermen describing a great
arc behind her, and forged ahead till she lost way, when lines were
flung ashore and she was made fast. This was accomplished under a
hurricane of cheers from the delighted miners.

Ole Ericsen heaved a great sigh. "Ay never tank Ay see my wife never
again," he confessed.

"Why, we were never in any danger," said Charley.

Ole looked at him incredulously.

"Sure, I mean it," Charley went on. "All we had to do, any time, was
to let go our end--as I am going to do now, so that those Greeks can
untangle their nets."

He went below with a monkey-wrench, unscrewed the nut, and let the
hook drop off. When the Greeks had hauled their nets into their boats
and made everything ship-shape, a posse of citizens took them off our
hands and led them away to jail.

"Ay tank Ay ban a great big fool," said Ole Ericsen. But he changed
his mind when the admiring townspeople crowded aboard to shake hands
with him, and a couple of enterprising newspaper men took photographs
of the _Mary Rebecca_ and her captain.



VI

DEMETRIOS CONTOS


It must not be thought, from what I have told of the Greek fishermen,
that they were altogether bad. Far from it. But they were rough men,
gathered together in isolated communities and fighting with the
elements for a livelihood. They lived far away from the law and its
workings, did not understand it, and thought it tyranny. Especially
did the fish laws seem tyrannical. And because of this, they looked
upon the men of the fish patrol as their natural enemies.

We menaced their lives, or their living, which is the same thing, in
many ways. We confiscated illegal traps and nets, the materials of
which had cost them considerable sums and the making of which required
weeks of labor. We prevented them from catching fish at many times and
seasons, which was equivalent to preventing them from making as good a
living as they might have made had we not been in existence. And when
we captured them, they were brought into the courts of law, where
heavy cash fines were collected from them. As a result, they hated us
vindictively. As the dog is the natural enemy of the cat, the snake of
man, so were we of the fish patrol the natural enemies of the
fishermen.

But it is to show that they could act generously as well as hate
bitterly that this story of Demetrios Contos is told. Demetrios Contos
lived in Vallejo. Next to Big Alec, he was the largest, bravest, and
most influential man among the Greeks. He had given us no trouble,
and I doubt if he would ever have clashed with us had he not invested
in a new salmon boat. This boat was the cause of all the trouble. He
had had it built upon his own model, in which the lines of the general
salmon boat were somewhat modified.

To his high elation he found his new boat very fast--in fact, faster
than any other boat on the bay or rivers. Forthwith he grew proud and
boastful: and, our raid with the _Mary Rebecca_ on the Sunday salmon
fishers having wrought fear in their hearts, he sent a challenge up to
Benicia. One of the local fishermen conveyed it to us; it was to the
effect that Demetrios Contos would sail up from Vallejo on the
following Sunday, and in the plain sight of Benicia set his net and
catch salmon, and that Charley Le Grant, patrolman, might come and get
him if he could. Of course Charley and I had heard nothing of the new
boat. Our own boat was pretty fast, and we were not afraid to have a
brush with any other that happened along.

Sunday came. The challenge had been bruited abroad, and the fishermen
and seafaring folk of Benicia turned out to a man, crowding Steamboat
Wharf till it looked like the grand stand at a football match. Charley
and I had been sceptical, but the fact of the crowd convinced us that
there was something in Demetrios Contos's dare.

In the afternoon, when the sea-breeze had picked up in strength, his
sail hove into view as he bowled along before the wind. He tacked a
score of feet from the wharf, waved his hand theatrically, like a
knight about to enter the lists, received a hearty cheer in return,
and stood away into the Straits for a couple of hundred yards. Then he
lowered sail, and, drifting the boat sidewise by means of the wind,
proceeded to set his net. He did not set much of it, possibly fifty
feet; yet Charley and I were thunderstruck at the man's effrontery. We
did not know at the time, but we learned afterward, that the net he
used was old and worthless. It _could_ catch fish, true; but a catch
of any size would have torn it to pieces.

Charley shook his head and said:

"I confess, it puzzles me. What if he has out only fifty feet? He
could never get it in if we once started for him. And why does he come
here anyway, flaunting his law-breaking in our faces? Right in our
home town, too."

Charley's voice took on an aggrieved tone, and he continued for some
minutes to inveigh against the brazenness of Demetrios Contos.

In the meantime, the man in question was lolling in the stern of his
boat and watching the net floats. When a large fish is meshed in a
gill-net, the floats by their agitation advertise the fact. And they
evidently advertised it to Demetrios, for he pulled in about a dozen
feet of net, and held aloft for a moment, before he flung it into the
bottom of the boat, a big, glistening salmon. It was greeted by the
audience on the wharf with round after round of cheers. This was more
than Charley could stand.

"Come on, lad," he called to me; and we lost no time jumping into our
salmon boat and getting up sail.

The crowd shouted warning to Demetrios, and as we darted out from the
wharf we saw him slash his worthless net clear with a long knife. His
sail was all ready to go up, and a moment later it fluttered in the
sunshine. He ran aft, drew in the sheet, and filled on the long tack
toward the Contra Costa Hills.

By this time we were not more than thirty feet astern. Charley was
jubilant. He knew our boat was fast, and he knew, further, that in
fine sailing few men were his equals. He was confident that we should
surely catch Demetrios, and I shared his confidence. But somehow we
did not seem to gain.

It was a pretty sailing breeze. We were gliding sleekly through the
water, but Demetrios was slowly sliding away from us. And not only was
he going faster, but he was eating into the wind a fraction of a point
closer than we. This was sharply impressed upon us when he went about
under the Contra Costa Hills and passed us on the other tack fully one
hundred feet dead to windward.

"Whew!" Charley exclaimed. "Either that boat is a daisy, or we've got
a five-gallon coal-oil can fast to our keel!"

It certainly looked it one way or the other. And by the time
Demetrios made the Sonoma Hills, on the other side of the Straits, we
were so hopelessly outdistanced that Charley told me to slack off the
sheet, and we squared away for Benicia. The fishermen on Steamboat
Wharf showered us with ridicule when we returned and tied up. Charley
and I got out and walked away, feeling rather sheepish, for it is a
sore stroke to one's pride when he thinks he has a good boat and knows
how to sail it, and another man comes along and beats him.

Charley mooned over it for a couple of days; then word was brought to
us, as before, that on the next Sunday Demetrios Contos would repeat
his performance. Charley roused himself. He had our boat out of the
water, cleaned and repainted its bottom, made a trifling alteration
about the centre-board, overhauled the running gear, and sat up
nearly all of Saturday night sewing on a new and much larger sail. So
large did he make it, in fact, that additional ballast was imperative,
and we stowed away nearly five hundred extra pounds of old railroad
iron in the bottom of the boat.

Sunday came, and with it came Demetrios Contos, to break the law
defiantly in open day. Again we had the afternoon sea-breeze, and
again Demetrios cut loose some forty or more feet of his rotten net,
and got up sail and under way under our very noses. But he had
anticipated Charley's move, and his own sail peaked higher than ever,
while a whole extra cloth had been added to the after leech.

It was nip and tuck across to the Contra Costa Hills, neither of us
seeming to gain or to lose. But by the time we had made the return
tack to the Sonoma Hills, we could see that, while we footed it at
about equal speed, Demetrios had eaten into the wind the least bit
more than we. Yet Charley was sailing our boat as finely and
delicately as it was possible to sail it, and getting more out of it
than he ever had before.

Of course, he could have drawn his revolver and fired at Demetrios;
but we had long since found it contrary to our natures to shoot at a
fleeing man guilty of only a petty offence. Also a sort of tacit
agreement seemed to have been reached between the patrolmen and the
fishermen. If we did not shoot while they ran away, they, in turn, did
not fight if we once laid hands on them. Thus Demetrios Contos ran
away from us, and we did no more than try our best to overtake him;
and, in turn, if our boat proved faster than his, or was sailed
better, he would, we knew, make no resistance when we caught up with
him.

With our large sails and the healthy breeze romping up the Carquinez
Straits, we found that our sailing was what is called "ticklish." We
had to be constantly on the alert to avoid a capsize, and while
Charley steered I held the main-sheet in my hand with but a single
turn round a pin, ready to let go at any moment. Demetrios, we could
see, sailing his boat alone, had his hands full.

But it was a vain undertaking for us to attempt to catch him. Out of
his inner consciousness he had evolved a boat that was better than
ours. And though Charley sailed fully as well, if not the least bit
better, the boat he sailed was not so good as the Greek's.

"Slack away the sheet," Charley commanded; and as our boat fell off
before the wind, Demetrios's mocking laugh floated down to us.

Charley shook his head, saying, "It's no use. Demetrios has the
better boat. If he tries his performance again, we must meet it with
some new scheme."

This time it was my imagination that came to the rescue.

"What's the matter," I suggested, on the Wednesday following, "with my
chasing Demetrios in the boat next Sunday, while you wait for him on
the wharf at Vallejo when he arrives?"

Charley considered it a moment and slapped his knee.

"A good idea! You're beginning to use that head of yours. A credit to
your teacher, I must say."

"But you mustn't chase him too far," he went on, the next moment, "or
he'll head out into San Pablo Bay instead of running home to Vallejo,
and there I'll be, standing lonely on the wharf and waiting in vain
for him to arrive."

On Thursday Charley registered an objection to my plan.

"Everybody'll know I've gone to Vallejo, and you can depend upon it
that Demetrios will know, too. I'm afraid we'll have to give up the
idea."

This objection was only too valid, and for the rest of the day I
struggled under my disappointment. But that night a new way seemed to
open to me, and in my eagerness I awoke Charley from a sound sleep.

"Well," he grunted, "what's the matter? House afire?"

"No," I replied, "but my head is. Listen to this. On Sunday you and I
will be around Benicia up to the very moment Demetrios's sail heaves
into sight. This will lull everybody's suspicions. Then, when
Demetrios's sail does heave in sight, do you stroll leisurely away and
up-town. All the fishermen will think you're beaten and that you know
you're beaten."

"So far, so good," Charley commented, while I paused to catch breath.

"And very good indeed," I continued proudly. "You stroll carelessly
up-town, but when you're once out of sight you leg it for all you're
worth for Dan Maloney's. Take the little mare of his, and strike out
on the county road for Vallejo. The road's in fine condition, and you
can make it in quicker time than Demetrios can beat all the way down
against the wind."

"And I'll arrange right away for the mare, first thing in the
morning," Charley said, accepting the modified plan without
hesitation.

"But, I say," he said, a little later, this time waking _me_ out of a
sound sleep.

I could hear him chuckling in the dark.

"I say, lad, isn't it rather a novelty for the fish patrol to be
taking to horseback?"

"Imagination," I answered. "It's what you're always preaching--'keep
thinking one thought ahead of the other fellow, and you're bound to
win out.'"

"He! he!" he chuckled. "And if one thought ahead, including a mare,
doesn't take the other fellow's breath away this time, I'm not your
humble servant, Charley Le Grant."

"But can you manage the boat alone?" he asked, on Friday. "Remember,
we've a ripping big sail on her."

I argued my proficiency so well that he did not refer to the matter
again till Saturday, when he suggested removing one whole cloth from
the after leech. I guess it was the disappointment written on my face
that made him desist; for I, also, had a pride in my boat-sailing
abilities, and I was almost wild to get out alone with the big sail
and go tearing down the Carquinez Straits in the wake of the flying
Greek.

As usual, Sunday and Demetrios Contos arrived together. It had become
the regular thing for the fishermen to assemble on Steamboat Wharf to
greet his arrival and to laugh at our discomfiture. He lowered sail a
couple of hundred yards out and set his customary fifty feet of rotten
net.

"I suppose this nonsense will keep up as long as his old net holds
out," Charley grumbled, with intention, in the hearing of several of
the Greeks.

"Den I give-a heem my old-a net-a," one of them spoke up, promptly and
maliciously.

"I don't care," Charley answered. "I've got some old net myself he can
have--if he'll come around and ask for it."

They all laughed at this, for they could afford to be sweet-tempered
with a man so badly outwitted as Charley was.

"Well, so long, lad," Charley called to me a moment later. "I think
I'll go up-town to Maloney's."

"Let me take the boat out?" I asked.

"If you want to," was his answer, as he turned on his heel and walked
slowly away.

Demetrios pulled two large salmon out of his net, and I jumped into
the boat. The fishermen crowded around in a spirit of fun, and when I
started to get up sail overwhelmed me with all sorts of jocular
advice. They even offered extravagant bets to one another that I would
surely catch Demetrios, and two of them, styling themselves the
committee of judges, gravely asked permission to come along with me to
see how I did it.

But I was in no hurry. I waited to give Charley all the time I could,
and I pretended dissatisfaction with the stretch of the sail and
slightly shifted the small tackle by which the huge sprit forces up
the peak. It was not until I was sure that Charley had reached Dan
Maloney's and was on the little mare's back, that I cast off from the
wharf and gave the big sail to the wind. A stout puff filled it and
suddenly pressed the lee gunwale down till a couple of buckets of
water came inboard. A little thing like this will happen to the best
small-boat sailors, and yet, though I instantly let go the sheet and
righted, I was cheered sarcastically, as though I had been guilty of a
very awkward blunder.

When Demetrios saw only one person in the fish patrol boat, and that
one a boy, he proceeded to play with me. Making a short tack out, with
me not thirty feet behind, he returned, with his sheet a little free,
to Steamboat Wharf. And there he made short tacks, and turned and
twisted and ducked around, to the great delight of his sympathetic
audience. I was right behind him all the time, and I dared to do
whatever he did, even when he squared away before the wind and jibed
his big sail over--a most dangerous trick with such a sail in such a
wind.

He depended upon the brisk sea breeze and the strong ebb tide, which
together kicked up a nasty sea, to bring me to grief. But I was on my
mettle, and never in all my life did I sail a boat better than on that
day. I was keyed up to concert pitch, my brain was working smoothly
and quickly, my hands never fumbled once, and it seemed that I almost
divined the thousand little things which a small-boat sailor must be
taking into consideration every second.

It was Demetrios who came to grief instead. Something went wrong with
his centre-board, so that it jammed in the case and would not go all
the way down. In a moment's breathing space, which he had gained from
me by a clever trick, I saw him working impatiently with the
centre-board, trying to force it down. I gave him little time, and he
was compelled quickly to return to the tiller and sheet.

The centre-board made him anxious. He gave over playing with me, and
started on the long beat to Vallejo. To my joy, on the first long tack
across, I found that I could eat into the wind just a little bit
closer than he. Here was where another man in the boat would have been
of value to him; for, with me but a few feet astern, he did not dare
let go the tiller and run amidships to try to force down the
centre-board.

Unable to hang on as close in the eye of the wind as formerly, he
proceeded to slack his sheet a trifle and to ease off a bit, in order
to outfoot me. This I permitted him to do till I had worked to
windward, when I bore down upon him. As I drew close, he feinted at
coming about. This led me to shoot into the wind to forestall him. But
it was only a feint, cleverly executed, and he held back to his course
while I hurried to make up lost ground.

He was undeniably smarter than I when it came to manoeuvring. Time
after time I all but had him, and each time he tricked me and escaped.
Besides, the wind was freshening constantly, and each of us had his
hands full to avoid capsizing. As for my boat, it could not have been
kept afloat but for the extra ballast. I sat cocked over the weather
gunwale, tiller in one hand and sheet in the other; and the sheet,
with a single turn around a pin, I was very often forced to let go in
the severer puffs. This allowed the sail to spill the wind, which was
equivalent to taking off so much driving power, and of course I lost
ground. My consolation was that Demetrios was as often compelled to do
the same thing.

The strong ebb-tide, racing down the Straits in the teeth of the wind,
caused an unusually heavy and spiteful sea, which dashed aboard
continually. I was dripping wet, and even the sail was wet half-way up
the after leech. Once I did succeed in outmanoeuvring Demetrios, so
that my bow bumped into him amidships. Here was where I should have
had another man. Before I could run forward and leap aboard, he shoved
the boats apart with an oar, laughing mockingly in my face as he did
so.

We were now at the mouth of the Straits, in a bad stretch of water.
Here the Vallejo Straits and the Carquinez Straits rushed directly at
each other. Through the first flowed all the water of Napa River and
the great tide-lands; through the second flowed all the water of
Suisun Bay and the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. And where such
immense bodies of water, flowing swiftly, clashed together, a terrible
tide-rip was produced. To make it worse, the wind howled up San Pablo
Bay for fifteen miles and drove in a tremendous sea upon the tide-rip.

Conflicting currents tore about in all directions, colliding, forming
whirlpools, sucks, and boils, and shooting up spitefully into hollow
waves which fell aboard as often from leeward as from windward. And
through it all, confused, driven into a madness of motion, thundered
the great smoking seas from San Pablo Bay.

I was as wildly excited as the water. The boat was behaving
splendidly, leaping and lurching through the welter like a race-horse.
I could hardly contain myself with the joy of it. The huge sail, the
howling wind, the driving seas, the plunging boat--I, a pygmy, a mere
speck in the midst of it, was mastering the elemental strife, flying
through it and over it, triumphant and victorious.

And just then, as I roared along like a conquering hero, the boat
received a frightful smash and came instantly to a dead stop. I was
flung forward and into the bottom. As I sprang up I caught a fleeting
glimpse of a greenish, barnacle-covered object, and knew it at once
for what it was, that terror of navigation, a sunken pile. No man may
guard against such a thing. Water-logged and floating just beneath the
surface, it was impossible to sight it in the troubled water in time
to escape.

The whole bow of the boat must have been crushed in, for in a few
seconds the boat was half full. Then a couple of seas filled it, and
it sank straight down, dragged to bottom by the heavy ballast. So
quickly did it all happen that I was entangled in the sail and drawn
under. When I fought my way to the surface, suffocating, my lungs
almost bursting, I could see nothing of the oars. They must have been
swept away by the chaotic currents. I saw Demetrios Contos looking
back from his boat, and heard the vindictive and mocking tones of his
voice as he shouted exultantly. He held steadily on his course,
leaving me to perish.

There was nothing to do but to swim for it, which, in that wild
confusion, was at the best a matter of but a few moments. Holding my
breath and working with my hands, I managed to get off my heavy
sea-boots and my jacket. Yet there was very little breath I could
catch to hold, and I swiftly discovered that it was not so much a
matter of swimming as of breathing.

I was beaten and buffeted, smashed under by the great San Pablo
whitecaps, and strangled by the hollow tide-rip waves which flung
themselves into my eyes, nose, and mouth. Then the strange sucks would
grip my legs and drag me under, to spout me up in some fierce boiling,
where, even as I tried to catch my breath, a great whitecap would
crash down upon my head.

It was impossible to survive any length of time. I was breathing more
water than air, and drowning all the time. My senses began to leave
me, my head to whirl around. I struggled on, spasmodically,
instinctively, and was barely half conscious when I felt myself caught
by the shoulders and hauled over the gunwale of a boat.

For some time I lay across a seat where I had been flung, face
downward, and with the water running out of my mouth. After a while,
still weak and faint, I turned around to see who was my rescuer. And
there, in the stern, sheet in one hand and tiller in the other,
grinning and nodding good-naturedly, sat Demetrios Contos. He had
intended to leave me to drown,--he said so afterward,--but his better
self had fought the battle, conquered, and sent him back to me.

"You all-a right?" he asked.

I managed to shape a "yes" on my lips, though I could not yet speak.

"You sail-a de boat verr-a good-a," he said. "So good-a as a man."

A compliment from Demetrios Contos was a compliment indeed, and I
keenly appreciated it, though I could only nod my head in
acknowledgment.

We held no more conversation, for I was busy recovering and he was
busy with the boat. He ran in to the wharf at Vallejo, made the boat
fast, and helped me out. Then it was, as we both stood on the wharf,
that Charley stepped out from behind a net-rack and put his hand on
Demetrios Contos's arm.

"He saved my life, Charley," I protested; "and I don't think he ought
to be arrested."

A puzzled expression came into Charley's face, which cleared
immediately after, in a way it had when he made up his mind.

"I can't help it, lad," he said kindly. "I can't go back on my duty,
and it's plain duty to arrest him. To-day is Sunday; there are two
salmon in his boat which he caught to-day. What else can I do?"

"But he saved my life," I persisted, unable to make any other
argument.

[Illustration: "There, in the stern, sat Demetrios Contos."]

Demetrios Contos's face went black with rage when he learned Charley's
judgment. He had a sense of being unfairly treated. The better part of
his nature had triumphed, he had performed a generous act and saved a
helpless enemy, and in return the enemy was taking him to jail.

Charley and I were out of sorts with each other when we went back to
Benicia. I stood for the spirit of the law and not the letter; but by
the letter Charley made his stand. As far as he could see, there was
nothing else for him to do. The law said distinctly that no salmon
should be caught on Sunday. He was a patrolman, and it was his duty to
enforce that law. That was all there was to it. He had done his duty,
and his conscience was clear. Nevertheless, the whole thing seemed
unjust to me, and I felt very sorry for Demetrios Contos.

Two days later we went down to Vallejo to the trial. I had to go along
as a witness, and it was the most hateful task that I ever performed
in my life when I testified on the witness stand to seeing Demetrios
catch the two salmon Charley had captured him with.

Demetrios had engaged a lawyer, but his case was hopeless. The jury
was out only fifteen minutes, and returned a verdict of guilty. The
judge sentenced Demetrios to pay a fine of one hundred dollars or go
to jail for fifty days.

Charley stepped up to the clerk of the court. "I want to pay that
fine," he said, at the same time placing five twenty-dollar gold
pieces on the desk. "It--it was the only way out of it, lad," he
stammered, turning to me.

The moisture rushed into my eyes as I seized his hand. "I want to
pay--" I began.

"To pay your half?" he interrupted. "I certainly shall expect you to
pay it."

In the meantime Demetrios had been informed by his lawyer that his fee
likewise had been paid by Charley.

Demetrios came over to shake Charley's hand, and all his warm Southern
blood flamed in his face. Then, not to be outdone in generosity, he
insisted on paying his fine and lawyer's fee himself, and flew
half-way into a passion because Charley refused to let him.

More than anything else we ever did, I think, this action of Charley's
impressed upon the fishermen the deeper significance of the law. Also
Charley was raised high in their esteem, while I came in for a little
share of praise as a boy who knew how to sail a boat. Demetrios Contos
not only never broke the law again, but he became a very good friend
of ours, and on more than one occasion he ran up to Benicia to have a
gossip with us.



VII

YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF


"I'm not wanting to dictate to you, lad," Charley said; "but I'm very
much against your making a last raid. You've gone safely through rough
times with rough men, and it would be a shame to have something happen
to you at the very end."

"But how can I get out of making a last raid?" I demanded, with the
cocksureness of youth. "There always has to be a last, you know, to
anything."

Charley crossed his legs, leaned back, and considered the problem.
"Very true. But why not call the capture of Demetrios Contos the last?
You're back from it safe and sound and hearty, for all your good
wetting, and--and--" His voice broke and he could not speak for a
moment. "And I could never forgive myself if anything happened to you
now."

I laughed at Charley's fears while I gave in to the claims of his
affection, and agreed to consider the last raid already performed. We
had been together for two years, and now I was leaving the fish patrol
in order to go back and finish my education. I had earned and saved
money to put me through three years at the high school, and though the
beginning of the term was several months away, I intended doing a lot
of studying for the entrance examinations.

My belongings were packed snugly in a sea-chest, and I was all ready
to buy my ticket and ride down on the train to Oakland, when Neil
Partington arrived in Benicia. The _Reindeer_ was needed immediately
for work far down on the Lower Bay, and Neil said he intended to run
straight for Oakland. As that was his home and as I was to live with
his family while going to school, he saw no reason, he said, why I
should not put my chest aboard and come along.

So the chest went aboard, and in the middle of the afternoon we
hoisted the _Reindeer's_ big mainsail and cast off. It was tantalizing
fall weather. The sea-breeze, which had blown steadily all summer, was
gone, and in its place were capricious winds and murky skies which
made the time of arriving anywhere extremely problematical. We started
on the first of the ebb, and as we slipped down the Carquinez Straits,
I looked my last for some time upon Benicia and the bight at Turner's
Shipyard, where we had besieged the _Lancashire Queen_, and had
captured Big Alec, the King of the Greeks. And at the mouth of the
Straits I looked with not a little interest upon the spot where a few
days before I should have drowned but for the good that was in the
nature of Demetrios Contos.

A great wall of fog advanced across San Pablo Bay to meet us, and in a
few minutes the _Reindeer_ was running blindly through the damp
obscurity. Charley, who was steering, seemed to have an instinct for
that kind of work. How he did it, he himself confessed that he did not
know; but he had a way of calculating winds, currents, distance, time,
drift, and sailing speed that was truly marvellous.

"It looks as though it were lifting," Neil Partington said, a couple
of hours after we had entered the fog. "Where do you say we are,
Charley?"

Charley looked at his watch. "Six o'clock, and three hours more of
ebb," he remarked casually.

"But where do you say we are?" Neil insisted.

Charley pondered a moment, and then answered, "The tide has edged us
over a bit out of our course, but if the fog lifts right now, as it is
going to lift, you'll find we're not more than a thousand miles off
McNear's Landing."

"You might be a little more definite by a few miles, anyway," Neil
grumbled, showing by his tone that he disagreed.

"All right, then," Charley said, conclusively, "not less than a
quarter of a mile, not more than a half."

The wind freshened with a couple of little puffs, and the fog thinned
perceptibly.

"McNear's is right off there," Charley said, pointing directly into
the fog on our weather beam.

The three of us were peering intently in that direction, when the
_Reindeer_ struck with a dull crash and came to a standstill. We ran
forward, and found her bowsprit entangled in the tanned rigging of a
short, chunky mast. She had collided, head on, with a Chinese junk
lying at anchor.

At the moment we arrived forward, five Chinese, like so many bees,
came swarming out of the little 'tween-decks cabin, the sleep still in
their eyes.

Leading them came a big, muscular man, conspicuous for his pock-marked
face and the yellow silk handkerchief swathed about his head. It was
Yellow Handkerchief, the Chinaman whom we had arrested for illegal
shrimp-fishing the year before, and who, at that time, had nearly sunk
the _Reindeer_, as he had nearly sunk it now by violating the rules of
navigation.

"What d'ye mean, you yellow-faced heathen, lying here in a fairway
without a horn a-going?" Charley cried hotly.

"Mean?" Neil calmly answered. "Just take a look--that's what he
means."

Our eyes followed the direction indicated by Neil's finger, and we saw
the open amid-ships of the junk, half filled, as we found on closer
examination, with fresh-caught shrimps. Mingled with the shrimps were
myriads of small fish, from a quarter of an inch upwards in size.
Yellow Handkerchief had lifted the trap-net at high-water slack, and,
taking advantage of the concealment offered by the fog, had boldly
been lying by, waiting to lift the net again at low-water slack.

"Well," Neil hummed and hawed, "in all my varied and extensive
experience as a fish patrolman, I must say this is the easiest capture
I ever made. What'll we do with them, Charley?"

"Tow the junk into San Rafael, of course," came the answer. Charley
turned to me. "You stand by the junk, lad, and I'll pass you a towing
line. If the wind doesn't fail us, we'll make the creek before the
tide gets too low, sleep at San Rafael, and arrive in Oakland
to-morrow by midday."

So saying, Charley and Neil returned to the _Reindeer_ and got under
way, the junk towing astern. I went aft and took charge of the prize,
steering by means of an antiquated tiller and a rudder with large,
diamond-shaped holes, through which the water rushed back and forth.

By now the last of the fog had vanished, and Charley's estimate of our
position was confirmed by the sight of McNear's Landing a short
half-mile away. Following along the west shore, we rounded Point Pedro
in plain view of the Chinese shrimp villages, and a great to-do was
raised when they saw one of their junks towing behind the familiar
fish patrol sloop.

The wind, coming off the land, was rather puffy and uncertain, and it
would have been more to our advantage had it been stronger. San Rafael
Creek, up which we had to go to reach the town, and turn over our
prisoners to the authorities, ran through wide-stretching marshes, and
was difficult to navigate on a falling tide, while at low tide it was
impossible to navigate at all. So, with the tide already half-ebbed,
it was necessary for us to make time. This the heavy junk prevented
lumbering along behind and holding the _Reindeer_ back by just so much
dead weight.

"Tell those coolies to get up that sail" Charley finally called to me.
"We don't want to hang up on the mud flats for the rest of the night."

I repeated the order to Yellow Handkerchief, who mumbled it huskily to
his men. He was suffering from a bad cold, which doubled him up in
convulsive coughing spells and made his eyes heavy and bloodshot. This
made him more evil-looking than ever, and when he glared viciously at
me, I remembered with a shiver the close shave I had had with him at
the time of his previous arrest.

His crew sullenly tailed on to the halyards, and the strange,
outlandish sail, lateen in rig and dyed a warm brown, rose in the air.
We were sailing on the wind, and when Yellow Handkerchief flattened
down the sheet the junk forged ahead and the tow-line went slack. Fast
as the _Reindeer_ could sail, the junk outsailed her; and to avoid
running her down I hauled a little closer on the wind. But the junk
likewise outpointed, and in a couple of minutes I was abreast of the
_Reindeer_ and to windward. The tow-line had now tautened, at right
angles to the two boats and the predicament was laughable.

"Cast off!" I shouted.

Charley hesitated.

"It's all right," I added. "Nothing can happen. We'll make the creek on
this tack, and you'll be right behind me all the way up to San
Rafael."

At this Charley cast off, and Yellow Handkerchief sent one of his men
forward to haul in the line. In the gathering darkness I could just
make out the mouth of San Rafael Creek, and by the time we entered it
I could barely see its banks. The _Reindeer_ was fully five minutes
astern, and we continued to leave her astern as we beat up the narrow,
winding channel. With Charley behind us, it seemed I had little to
fear from my five prisoners; but the darkness prevented my keeping a
sharp eye on them, so I transferred my revolver from my trousers
pocket to the side pocket of my coat, where I could more quickly put
my hand on it.

Yellow Handkerchief was the one I feared, and that he knew it and made
use of it, subsequent events will show. He was sitting a few feet away
from me, on what then happened to be the weather side of the junk. I
could scarcely see the outlines of his form, but I soon became
convinced that he was slowly, very slowly, edging closer to me. I
watched him carefully. Steering with my left hand, I slipped my right
into my pocket and got hold of the revolver.

I saw him shift along for a couple of inches, and I was just about to
order him back--the words were trembling on the tip of my tongue--when
I was struck with great force by a heavy figure that had leaped
through the air upon me from the lee side. It was one of the crew. He
pinioned my right arm so that I could not withdraw my hand from my
pocket, and at the same time clapped his other hand over my mouth. Of
course, I could have struggled away from him and freed my hand or
gotten my mouth clear so that I might cry an alarm, but in a trice
Yellow Handkerchief was on top of me.

I struggled around to no purpose in the bottom of the junk, while my
legs and arms were tied and my mouth securely bound in what I
afterward found out to be a cotton shirt. Then I was left lying in the
bottom. Yellow Handkerchief took the tiller, issuing his orders in
whispers; and from our position at the time, and from the alteration
of the sail, which I could dimly make out above me as a blot against
the stars, I knew the junk was being headed into the mouth of a small
slough which emptied at that point into San Rafael Creek.

In a couple of minutes we ran softly alongside the bank, and the sail
was silently lowered. The Chinese kept very quiet. Yellow Handkerchief
sat down in the bottom alongside of me, and I could feel him straining
to repress his raspy, hacking cough. Possibly seven or eight minutes
later I heard Charley's voice as the _Reindeer_ went past the mouth of
the slough.

"I can't tell you how relieved I am," I could plainly hear him saying
to Neil, "that the lad has finished with the fish patrol without
accident."

Here Neil said something which I could not catch, and then Charley's
voice went on:

"The youngster takes naturally to the water, and if, when he finishes
high school, he takes a course in navigation and goes deep sea, I see
no reason why he shouldn't rise to be master of the finest and biggest
ship afloat."

It was all very flattering to me, but lying there, bound and gagged by
my own prisoners, with the voices growing faint and fainter as the
_Reindeer_ slipped on through the darkness toward San Rafael, I must
say I was not in quite the proper situation to enjoy my smiling
future. With the _Reindeer_ went my last hope. What was to happen next
I could not imagine, for the Chinese were a different race from mine,
and from what I knew I was confident that fair play was no part of
their make-up.

After waiting a few minutes longer, the crew hoisted the lateen sail,
and Yellow Handkerchief steered down toward the mouth of San Rafael
Creek. The tide was getting lower, and he had difficulty in escaping
the mud-banks. I was hoping he would run aground, but he succeeded in
making the Bay without accident.

As we passed out of the creek a noisy discussion arose, which I knew
related to me. Yellow Handkerchief was vehement, but the other four as
vehemently opposed him. It was very evident that he advocated doing
away with me and they were afraid of the consequences. I was familiar
enough with the Chinese character to know that fear alone restrained
them. But what plan they offered in place of Yellow Handkerchief's
murderous one, I could not make out.

My feelings, as my fate hung in the balance, may be guessed. The
discussion developed into a quarrel, in the midst of which Yellow
Handkerchief unshipped the heavy tiller and sprang toward me. But his
four companions threw themselves between, and a clumsy struggle took
place for possession of the tiller. In the end Yellow Handkerchief was
over-come, and sullenly returned to the steering, while they soundly
berated him for his rashness.

Not long after, the sail was run down and the junk slowly urged
forward by means of the sweeps. I felt it ground gently on the soft
mud. Three of the Chinese--they all wore long sea-boots--got over the
side, and the other two passed me across the rail. With Yellow
Handkerchief at my legs and his two companions at my shoulders, they
began to flounder along through the mud. After some time their feet
struck firmer footing, and I knew they were carrying me up some beach.
The location of this beach was not doubtful in my mind. It could be
none other than one of the Marin Islands, a group of rocky islets
which lay off the Marin County shore.

When they reached the firm sand that marked high tide, I was dropped,
and none too gently. Yellow Handkerchief kicked me spitefully in the
ribs, and then the trio floundered back through the mud to the junk. A
moment later I heard the sail go up and slat in the wind as they drew
in the sheet. Then silence fell, and I was left to my own devices for
getting free.

I remembered having seen tricksters writhe and squirm out of ropes
with which they were bound, but though I writhed and squirmed like a
good fellow, the knots remained as hard as ever, and there was no
appreciable slack. In the course of my squirming, however, I rolled
over upon a heap of clam-shells--the remains, evidently, of some
yachting party's clam-bake. This gave me an idea. My hands were tied
behind my back; and, clutching a shell in them, I rolled over and
over, up the beach, till I came to the rocks I knew to be there.

Rolling about and searching, I finally discovered a narrow crevice,
into which I shoved the shell. The edge of it was sharp, and across
the sharp edge I proceeded to saw the rope that bound my wrists. The
edge of the shell was also brittle, and I broke it by bearing too
heavily upon it. Then I rolled back to the heap and returned with as
many shells as I could carry in both hands. I broke many shells, cut
my hands a number of times, and got cramps in my legs from my strained
position and my exertions.

While I was suffering from the cramps, and resting, I heard the
familiar halloo drift across the water. It was Charley, searching for
me. The gag in my mouth prevented me from replying, and I could only
lie there, helplessly fuming, while he rowed past the island and his
voice slowly lost itself in the distance.

I returned to the sawing process, and at the end of half an hour
succeeded in severing the rope. The rest was easy. My hands once free,
it was a matter of minutes to loosen my legs and to take the gag out
of my mouth. I ran around the island to make sure it _was_ an island
and not by chance a portion of the mainland. An island it certainly
was, one of the Marin group, fringed with a sandy beach and surrounded
by a sea of mud. Nothing remained but to wait till daylight and to
keep warm; for it was a cold, raw night for California, with just
enough wind to pierce the skin and cause one to shiver.

To keep up the circulation, I ran around the island a dozen times or
so, and clambered across its rocky backbone as many times more--all of
which was of greater service to me, as I afterward discovered, than
merely to warm me up. In the midst of this exercise I wondered if I
had lost anything out of my pockets while rolling over and over in the
sand. A search showed the absence of my revolver and pocket-knife. The
first Yellow Handkerchief had taken; but the knife had been lost in
the sand.

I was hunting for it when the sound of rowlocks came to my ears. At
first, of course, I thought of Charley; but on second thought I knew
Charley would be calling out as he rowed along. A sudden premonition
of danger seized me. The Marin Islands are lonely places; chance
visitors in the dead of night are hardly to be expected. What if it
were Yellow Handkerchief? The sound made by the rowlocks grew more
distinct. I crouched in the sand and listened intently. The boat,
which I judged a small skiff from the quick stroke of the oars, was
landing in the mud about fifty yards up the beach. I heard a raspy,
hacking cough, and my heart stood still. It was Yellow Handkerchief.
Not to be robbed of his revenge by his more cautious companions, he
had stolen away from the village and come back alone.

I did some swift thinking. I was unarmed and helpless on a tiny islet,
and a yellow barbarian, whom I had reason to fear, was coming after
me. Any place was safer than the island, and I turned immediately to
the water, or rather to the mud. As he began to flounder ashore
through the mud. I started to flounder out into it, going over the
same course which the Chinese had taken in landing me and in returning
to the junk.

Yellow Handkerchief, believing me to be lying tightly bound, exercised
no care, but came ashore noisily. This helped me, for, under the
shield of his noise and making no more myself than necessary, I
managed to cover fifty feet by the time he had made the beach. Here I
lay down in the mud. It was cold and clammy, and made me shiver, but I
did not care to stand up and run the risk of being discovered by his
sharp eyes.

He walked down the beach straight to where he had left me lying, and I
had a fleeting feeling of regret at not being able to see his surprise
when he did not find me. But it was a very fleeting regret, for my
teeth were chattering with the cold.

What his movements were after that I had largely to deduce from the
facts of the situation, for I could scarcely see him in the dim
starlight. But I was sure that the first thing he did was to make the
circuit of the beach to learn if landings had been made by other
boats. This he would have known at once by the tracks through the mud.

Convinced that no boat had removed me from the island, he next started
to find out what had become of me. Beginning at the pile of
clam-shells, he lighted matches to trace my tracks in the sand. At
such times I could see his villanous face plainly, and, when the
sulphur from the matches irritated his lungs, between the raspy cough
that followed and the clammy mud in which I was lying, I confess I
shivered harder than ever.

The multiplicity of my footprints puzzled him. Then the idea that I
might be out in the mud must have struck him, for he waded out a few
yards in my direction, and, stooping, with his eyes searched the dim
surface long and carefully. He could not have been more than fifteen
feet from me, and had he lighted a match he would surely have
discovered me.

He returned to the beach and clambered about over the rocky backbone,
again hunting for me with lighted matches. The closeness of the shore
impelled me to further flight. Not daring to wade upright, on account
of the noise made by floundering and by the suck of the mud, I
remained lying down in the mud and propelled myself over its surface
by means of my hands. Still keeping the trail made by the Chinese in
going from and to the junk, I held on until I had reached the water.
Into this I waded to a depth of three feet, and then I turned off to
the side on a line parallel with the beach.

The thought came to me of going toward Yellow Handkerchief's skiff and
escaping in it, but at that very moment he returned to the beach, and,
as though fearing the very thing I had in mind, he slushed out through
the mud to assure himself that the skiff was safe. This turned me in
the opposite direction. Half swimming, half wading, with my head just
out of water and avoiding splashing. I succeeded in putting about a
hundred feet between myself and the spot ashore where the Chinese had
begun to wade ashore from the junk. I drew myself out on the mud and
remained lying flat.

Again Yellow Handkerchief returned to the beach and made a search of
the island, and again he returned to the heap of clam-shells. I knew
what was running in his mind as well as he did himself. No one could
leave or land without making tracks in the mud. The only tracks to be
seen were those leading from his skiff and from where the junk had
been. I was not on the island. I must have left it by one or other of
those two tracks. He had just been over the one to his skiff, and was
certain I had not left that way. Therefore I could have left the
island only by going over the tracks of the junk landing. This he
proceeded to verify by wading out over them himself, lighting matches
as he came along.

When he arrived at the point where I had first lain, I knew, by the
matches he burned and the time he took, that he had discovered the
marks left by my body. These he followed straight to the water and
into it, but in three feet of water he could no longer see them. On
the other hand, as the tide was still falling, he could easily make
out the impression made by the junk's bow, and could have likewise
made out the impression of any other boat if it had landed at that
particular spot. But there was no such mark; and I knew that he was
absolutely convinced that I was hiding somewhere in the mud.

But to hunt on a dark night for a boy in a sea of mud would be like
hunting for a needle in a haystack, and he did not attempt it. Instead
he went back to the beach and prowled around for some time. I was
hoping he would give up and go, for by this time I was suffering
severely from the cold. At last he waded out to his skiff and rowed
away. What if this departure of Yellow Handkerchief's were a sham?
What if he had done it merely to entice me ashore?

The more I thought of it the more certain I became that he had made a
little too much noise with his oars as he rowed away. So I remained,
lying in the mud and shivering. I shivered till the muscles of the
small of my back ached and pained me as badly as the cold, and I had
need of all my self-control to force myself to remain in my miserable
situation.

It was well that I did, however, for, possibly an hour later, I
thought I could make out something moving on the beach. I watched
intently, but my ears were rewarded first, by a raspy cough I knew
only too well. Yellow Handkerchief had sneaked back, landed on the
other side of the island, and crept around to surprise me if I had
returned.

After that, though hours passed without sign of him, I was afraid to
return to the island at all. On the other hand, I was equally afraid
that I should die of the exposure I was undergoing. I had never
dreamed one could suffer so. I grew so cold and numb, finally, that I
ceased to shiver. But my muscles and bones began to ache in a way that
was agony. The tide had long since begun to rise, and, foot by foot,
it drove me in toward the beach. High water came at three o'clock, and
at three o'clock I drew myself up on the beach, more dead than alive,
and too helpless to have offered any resistence had Yellow
Handkerchief swooped down upon me.

But no Yellow Handkerchief appeared. He had given up and gone back to
Point Pedro. Nevertheless, I was in a deplorable, not to say a
dangerous, condition. I could not stand upon my feet, much less walk.
My clammy, muddy, garments clung to me like sheets of ice. I thought I
should never get them off. So numb and lifeless were my fingers, and
so weak was I, that it seemed to take an hour to get off my shoes. I
had not the strength to break the porpoise-hide laces, and the knots
defied me. I repeatedly beat my hands upon the rocks to get some sort
of life into them. Sometimes I felt sure I was going to die.

But in the end,--after several centuries, it seemed to me,--I got off
the last of my clothes. The water was now close at hand, and I crawled
painfully into it and washed the mud from my naked body. Still, I
could not get on my feet and walk and I was afraid to lie still.
Nothing remained but to crawl weakly, like a snail, and at the cost of
constant pain, up and down the island. I kept this up as along as
possible, but as the east paled with the coming of dawn I began to
succumb. The sky grew rosy-red, and the golden rim of the sun, showing
above the horizon, found me lying helpless and motionless among the
clam-shells.

As in a dream, I saw the familiar mainsail of the _Reindeer_ as she
slipped out of San Rafael Creek on a light puff of morning air. This
dream was very much broken. There are intervals I can never recollect
on looking back over it. Three things, however, I distinctly remember:
the first sight of the _Reindeer's_ mainsail; her lying at anchor a
few hundred feet away and a small boat leaving her side; and the cabin
stove roaring red-hot, myself swathed all over with blankets, except
on the chest and shoulders, which Charley was pounding and mauling
unmercifully, and my mouth and throat burning with the coffee which
Neil Partington was pouring down a trifle too hot.

But burn or no burn, I tell you it felt good. By the time we arrived
in Oakland I was as limber and strong as ever,--though Charley and
Neil Partington were afraid I was going to have pneumonia, and Mrs.
Partington, for my first six months of school, kept an anxious eye
upon me to discover the first symptoms of consumption.

Time flies. It seems but yesterday that I was a lad of sixteen on the
fish patrol. Yet I know that I arrived this very morning from China,
with a quick passage to my credit, and master of the barkentine
_Harvester_. And I know that to-morrow morning I shall run over to
Oakland to see Neil Partington and his wife and family, and later on
up to Benicia to see Charley Le Grant and talk over old times. No; I
shall not go to Benicia, now that I think about it. I expect to be a
highly interested party to a wedding, shortly to take place. Her name
is Alice Partington, and, since Charley has promised to be best man,
he will have to come down to Oakland instead.





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