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Title: Tales of the Fish Patrol
Author: London, Jack
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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Transcribed from the 1914 William Heinemann edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

             [Picture: “Now will you keep off?” he demanded]



                               Tales of the
                               Fish Patrol


                                    By
                               Jack London
                    Author of “Burning Daylight,” etc.

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                                  London
                            William Heinemann
                                   1914



WHITE AND YELLOW


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 sky-line.
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
smart 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 main-sheet 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
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.



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 reinforcements 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 hoods 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 I 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.

From the wharf at Selby’s we watched with careless interest the lubberly
manœuvre performed of bringing the yacht to anchor, and the equally
lubberly manœuvre 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 manœuvre, 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 overboard 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 subpœnaed 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.



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 growling 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.

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
unseaman-like 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.”



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 manœuvre 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 centre-board, 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
once more 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.

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 Solana 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 stringer-piece 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.”



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 have’nt 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 manœuvre was again
repeated.

Then we gave it up, completely routed, and hoisted sail and started on
the long windward 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 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 wid 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 book 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 maintopsail, 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
steamboats, 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.

“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 manœuvre 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 marlin-spike, 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 we’re 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 shipshape, 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.



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 country 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 manœuvring.  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 outmanœuvring 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.

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.



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 amidships 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 upward 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
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 that 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
overcome, 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 around 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 a 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 any 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 instinctively 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 shave
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 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 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 the 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 me 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 almost 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 resistance had Yellow Handkerchief
swooped down upon me.

But no Yellow Handkerchief appeared.  He had given me up and gone back to
Point Pedro.  Nevertheless, I was in a deplorable, not to say 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 sand.  I kept this up as long 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 Charlie 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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