McClure's Magazine/Volume 56/Number 2/Red to the Right
Red to the Right
By H. Bedford-Jones
Illustrations by Glen Mitchell
Three Men and a Girl—and a Tempest on Lake Michigan
THERE was just one thing in the world that Jason Johnson, known in La Salle Street as “Steel Head,” wanted and did not know how to get. He would have given all his wealth to get it, but nobody knew this. Not even his daughter, the party most concerned, suspected it. Certainly Nan could not read it in his indomitable gaze as she braced herself to the swing of the yacht and faced his answer. She had come to think him bitter, hard and cold, implacable as granite.
“I'd sooner sink than run in to St. James for shelter,” he said, clamping down on his cigar. “I know why you want to land there, my girl. We'll go on to Mackinac spite of hell or high water. I wish you'd tell Gaunt to run down and tune in this cursed radio for me. I want to get the opening market from Chicago.”
Nan gave him look for look, a surge of anger lightening her gray eyes. Framed in silk oilskins, her face was a refinement of his own—the same wide, fearless gaze, the same heavy lids, the same thin nostrils and line of mouth; but all softened and beautified in a miraculous manner. At least, Jason Johnson thought it miraculous.
“Call the steward to run your errands,” she said deliberately, then turned and was gone.
Gaining the deck above, she held to the companion rail and gazed over the empty expanse of Lake Michigan. The morning fog was being driven and scattered by the rising wind out of the west. A gray cloud rack hung menacing; so low was the horizon that the Michigan coast to starboard was hidden from sight. Mighty rollers were smashing across from the Wisconsin shore until the motor cruiser wallowed and plunged as she drove north toward Mackinac.
Gaunt approached Nan from forward. He was tall, awkwardly built, with an undershot jaw and tenacious eyes. An ample inheritance allowed him to play amateur-mechanic with boats and engines of all kinds, and he believed strongly in himself. Nan could not blame him because her mother had picked him for the slaughter, as she expressed it, nor because her father had acquiesced. Mrs. Johnson, who was at present opening the summer cottage at Mackinac, attended to all domestic affairs. Nan even felt a trifle sorry for poor Gaunt. Now, despite her parting speech to her father, she nodded toward the companionway.
Illustration: Delaney was stricken mute. The straining face beneath the sou'wester, the face framed in the window over him, was the face of Nan Johnson
“DAD'S hungering for your company,” she said cheerfully. “Go down and get him tuned in, like a good chap. When he is occupied with wheat and oats, come up forward and talk to me about something very particular. Will you?”
“You bet,” returned Gaunt, and hurriedly vanished below. Nan smiled a little. She had disconnected the radio ground and knew she could count on a little delay. Meanwhile, she made her way forward to the tiny chart and pilot house. Cap'n Johnny Wright himself had the wheel, and welcomed her with a smile on his hearty brown cheeks.
“Wind's coming up fast, Miss Johnson! Before noon you'll get the blow you've wanted, though we'll be in the island lee by then.”
“You haven't sighted the island yet?”
Cap'n Johnny shook his head, shifted the spokes, glanced from binnacle to high-heaving seas, squinting as his gaze swept the horizon.
“Big blow coming up. With luck, we'll make Mackinac some time tonight.”
“How do you tell at night,” she asked, standing beside him, “'which side of the light to steer for? If there's a red light, how do you know which side of it is the channel?”
“Red to the right,” said Cap'n Johnny. “When I was in the Arnold line, I'd always make the wheelers remember that. Red to the right o' the channel, every time.”
“Oh! But what about Harbor Springs?”
“Well ”—Cap'n Johnny chuckled—“true enough. But every place else, red to the right. You look at the chart and see.”
NAN settled herself comfortably on the seat behind him and tucked up one leg.
“Cap'n Johnny, I want you to do something for me. Something big.”
“Uh-huh.” Cap'n Johnny Wright did not lock around, but his tone was encouraging.
“At Mackinac, my engagement to Mr. Gaunt is to be announced—or so mother says,” confided Nan. “Now, I came along on the yacht because I knew you'd help me. You can't make Charlevoix in a heavy sea, and it's forty miles to Harbor Springs; so, if something breaks as we go up the channel, we'd have to put into St. James.”
“Stands to reason,” commented the skipper. Nan's gray eyes widened happily.
“Then you will!”
“If anything busts, sure. But they ain't liable to.”
“Yes, but I mean—make 'em bust! You've got to!”
To this Cap'n Johnny did not respond, and Nan was wise enough not to intrude on his silence.
He squinted out at the horizon, where an ore barge was wallowing heavily in the channel, and a frown drew down his gray brows. Cap'n Johnny knew why Nan's thoughts were fastened on Beaver Island. He knew how Nan had met Ed Delaney the previous summer, and how one thing had led to another, and so on. He knew that Ed Delaney was at home on Beaver Island this summer, fishing, and that Delaney had caused storm signals to be hoisted over the Johnson mansion at Wilmette.
“If there's any fuss with dad,” spoke up Nan, when the silence became heavy, “I'll fix——”
“It ain't that,” said Cap'n Johnny, and turned his troubled gaze to her. “I'm takin' your dad's money. What I'd like to do, ain't what I can do. I'm obeyin' orders.”
“Right,” she admitted, though her heart sank. “I hadn't thought of it that way. Tell me, will you run in close to the island?”
He nodded. “Right outside the fish stakes.”
“All right. What time will we be off St. James?”
He considered a moment. “One o'clock, I reckon.”
“Thank you, Cap'n Johnny.” The girl rose. “You wait and see.”
He flung her a quick glance, but could not intercept her eyes, for Nan turned swiftly to the door and was gone.
Illustration: "Well, I guess there's only one kind of answer that you can understand ——” Delaney's blow knocked the elder man down
Out on deck, she stood at the rail as the cruiser plunged northward, over her decks flying spindrift and spray as the rollers hammered her smooth sides. The seas were gaining in size, swept up from across the lake under the west gale. Ahead, Nan presently spied a low gray patch against the horizon—Beaver Island, close at hand yet nearly invisible. At the upper end of the long island was St. James harbor. Even as she stared, the girl saw that the wallowing ore barge ahead was driving for the shelter of the island haven, for at the north end of the channel the seas would be tremendous.
“Yet dad will run to Harbor Springs if he can—forty miles of it, rather than let me land on the island!” thought the girl, and her eyes were stormy as she gazed at the speck of land to the north. Scattered phrases still rang in her ears from the last hurricane which had shaken the mansion in Wilmette—“low fisherman,” “disgrace to the family name,” “ignorant dock walloper” and soon. They still burned. Why, only her father had been willing to meet Delaney—and that in order to intimidate him! Yet a slow smile touched her lips, despite the bitterness and resentment in her heart.
“And what would dad say if he knew?” she reflected. “If he knew that Ed Delaney had been working in his office all winter? If he knew that Delaney had made good with him—— She turned at a touch, to find Gaunt at her elbow.
The gale was blowing too heavily for speech here at the rail; she caught his arm and guided him to the lee of the deck house, and there swung about to face him. She had chosen her course deliberately. From Gaunt she could expect no mercy; only too well she knew his stubborn tenacity of purpose.
“Do you still want that kiss you asked for last night?” she demanded abruptly.
He started. A glow leaped into his spray-wet cheeks, for she was smiling in cool challenge.
“Do I! Of course! You mean——”
SHE evaded his hand. “I mean I'll sell it to you for information. You know all about engines. What would cripple a boat's engine without disabling it entirely and at once? No questions, now. Let's see whether you really want that kiss or not!”
Gaunt was no fool; he knew, of course, about the Delaney affair. Yet, with the flush in her cheek and the sparkle in her eye, Nan Johnson would have put fire into any man's heart. Small wonder Gaunt forgot his caution, with desire biting at him. Small wonder he stammered out the things she needed to know.
Then she leaned forward, letting him take her in his arms for a moment, and when she broke from him and darted below, there was a sharper flush in her cheeks.
JASON JOHNSON and Gaunt and Nan were just finishing luncheon when it happened, with a lurch and swing as the yacht drove into the trough of the seas. Five minutes later Cap'n Johnny appeared in the doorway, a daub of grease streaked across one cheek. From the one unshuttered port, Nan could see the harbor entrance a quarter-mile distant, and the white coast-guard station beside the lighthouse, and the two big barges anchored in the haven for shelter and the scattered sand-gray houses along the curving shore beyond. Deep as the harbor was, white horses were galloping past the heads.
“Something's played the mischief with the engines, sir,” said Cap'n Johnny. “We may be able to make the harbor. Two cylinders are——”
“Huh!” Jason Johnson transfixed him with a cold, steady eye. ”What's the cause?”
“Can't find it yet, sir. The engineer swears there must be sand in the oil; says he'll have to take her apart and get inside of her.”
“Make the harbor,” said Jason Johnson calmly.
The skipper cast a look at Nan, which she demurely ignored, and withdrew. Gaunt was sent to tune in on the one-o'clock market report and list the prices; he departed hastily. Jason Johnson put a cigar between his teeth and looked across the table at his daughter.
“You did it,” he declared.
She regarded him with a coolly challenging smile and a lift of her brows, tacitly admitting the accusation.
“My girl, it won't do!” He made an effort which was much greater than appeared on the surface. ”We've made great plans for you. Can't let you fling yourself away on an ignorant fisherman. No doubt he's a good sort and all that, but it won't do. You're too far above him. You must marry up, not down——”
“Really?” Nan studied him, wide-eyed. “Weren't you a workman in a grain elevator?”
“Nothing to do with it. I've fought up in the world. I've pulled you up—away up!”
“To the level of—Gaunt?” she said smoothly.
“Never mind that. I'll not force him on you if you'll be sensible. Fair bargain, my girl! We've given you everything on earth that money can buy——”
“That's it—that's it!” she exclaimed swiftly. “You've worked so hard for money that it's blinded you! And now you think that happiness comes from the outside; you think it can be bought, arranged for, forced to come! It can't. It comes from inside. All you've got inside of you is hard stone. Love? You don't know what it is. You can't react to me any more—all you can react to is the stock market. Your home is an incident.”
“Nonsense. Don't try to evade.” Jason Johnson frowned heavily upon her. “Cheapen yourself! That's the word. We can't see you become a fisherman's wife. You're all we have. We can't let you cheapen yourself, my girl.”
Then, a sudden angry flood rising scarlet in her cheeks, Nan loosed her bolt.
“Cheapen myself, indeed! How far will you drive me—how cheap will you force me to become, then? D'you know how I learned what to do to the engines? By selling myself—selling a kiss, soiling my pride and my lips for the sake of a better gain. And then you talk about cheapening myself!”
The bolt went deep, as she had known it would. Jason Johnson compressed his lips.
“I'm sorry,” he said at last. “You've hurt me, my girl. Why won't you listen to me? Don't you think I know the sort of lives these lake men lead? Don't I know their habits, their narrow lives, their constricted view of things? Come, I want to be fair——”
Illustration: Delaney stood up, feet braced wide. A smash was inevitable. He hurled the line from a wave crest, shouting: “Make fast to him! Make fast, you fool!”
“THAT'S a lie!” The blazing words silenced him, shocked him. “You don't want to be fair, not for a minute! Why, you wouldn't even meet Ed Delaney! You looked him up—oh, yes! Found he was all right, yes! But his people are humble and he works with his hands in a boat, instead of with his wits in La Salle Street. You don't know that he was in Chicago last winter, do you? Well, he was. He made good there. I wouldn't let him come to see you, because you're not fair. You said you wouldn't meet him except to thrash him. You! You think we're all afraid of you—and you won't even be fair! All right, I'm of age. I don't give a snap for your money, for anything you can do. You want to fight—I'll fight!”
Quivering with the intensity of her own emotion, Nan rose and swept from the mess cabin to her own stateroom, and slammed the door. Jason Johnson sat motionless, teeth clenched on his cigar, face like stone. Presently he sighed; that was all. After a bit, Gaunt came in with a paper, which he handed to Jason Johnson.
“I've a big deal on,” said the latter, after looking at the report. “Things aren't going as they should. When we dock, send a message for me, will you? There's a telephone line here to Charlevoix. I may have to get in touch with my bank. Depends on prices.”
The luxurious cruiser crept into the little haven with its long curving sand beach, its weather-beaten houses nestling under high trees that broke the bitter touch of winter gales, its fishing craft harbored along the shore. None of the boats were out, her had the mail boat come from Charlevoix that day; it could not come, being an old craft and cranky in heavy seas. Two big barges were anchored in the center of the harbor, and one or two skiffs were visiting them, most of the lake boats having Beaver men either forward or aft.
Since Jason Johnson cared nothing for expense, Cap'n Johnny Wright crawled right on to the McCann dock, and with his three men got the yacht lined up, then set to work uncovering the marred engines. Gaunt went ashore with his telegram. Not a few islanders came down to look at the fine craft, and some of these lined the wharf to gossip with Cap'n Johnny, who knew many of them. After a bit Jason Johnson came out on deck, stolid and silent. For a little while he stood there smoking, his hard eyes roving from the gray dock to the long stretch of town; it circled the harbor from the ruined Mormon houses on the south point to the lighthouse on the north point. The wind was whining through the trees, now and again stirring up a light scour of sand from the road, and the net frames that girded the shore were squeaking and squealing as they turned. Presently Jason Johnson looked at the men on the dock, and asked an abrupt question.
“Where'll I find Ed Delaney?”
The men consulted. They decided that Ed was probably mending nets in his own shed this side Cap'n Allers' house by the sawmill. One of them gave Jason Johnson a hand and helped him to the dock, and set him on his way.
He trudged along past the hotel, turned down the car track at the mill, and, after inquiring his way, found the shed where Ed Delaney was mending nets.
DELANEY, who was alone there, sighted the visitor. He dropped his work and came to the entrance, hand outstretched and a smile on his brown face. For all his old clothes he was good to look upon, being larger than Jason Johnson himself, and his face very strong and firm.
“Glad to see you!” he exclaimed heartily. “I was coming aboard presently.”
“Huh!” The other ignored his hand. “I've seen you before. Didn't know it was you.”
Despite the refusal of his hand, Delaney's eyes twinkled at this.
“How could you know? Sorry I couldn't come out with it, but it wouldn't do.”
“Huh!” The cold eyes of Jason Johnson bored at him. “Called yourself Boyle.”
“My middle name.” Delaney grinned. “Yes, and got a job in your own office, and made good at it! Nan wanted me to do that first——”
“Uh-huh.” Johnson swept all this aside with an air of perfect comprehension. “Put one over on me, huh? Don't like it. Now, young man, how far have things gone between you and Nan? Let's have a show-down here and now.”
“Done,” said Delaney, and sobered. “Will you come over to the house?”
“This is good enough. Answer my question. And no lies.”
A glint came into Delaney's blue eyes. Ed Delaney was said to have a swift temper, but the stony face of Jason Johnson, the impervious and impersonal attitude of the man, was not to be countered by anger. Besides, this was Nan's father; many things hinged on the outcome of this meeting. Delaney gave him eye for eye and spoke calmly.
“Things have gone this far: I know the only woman I'll ever marry is Nan Johnson.”
“What about her? Made any promises?”
“No. But I know she—she loves me. And I've wanted to come straight to you, never fear!” Delaney loosed his restraint. “I wanted to put it up to you fair and square, make you give me a chance. Nan wanted to wait, and that was hard; but I did it. She's the skipper. Now that you've come to me, we can have it out. I've saved up money, I have an education——”
“NEVER mind all that,” said Jason Johnson, and turned to look at the houses. His air was insolent and brutal. He inspected the mill, the houses, the sand and scattered trees that ran off toward the Indian village. Here everything was harshly primitive, tiny details of life bulked large; if there were any inner refinement, it did not show on the surface. Then he turned and swept Delaney again with his cold gaze.
Delaney went white. “Be careful!” he said slowly.
“Huh! None of that. I have you ticketed; no bluff goes. You'll never set eye on my girl again. You think you have a soft thing and can force it through. Well, it's ended! I'm willing to buy you off, so state your price and let's have it over.”
Delaney was whiter yet. “I see why they call you Steel Head,” said he, in a curiously soft voice. “I don't give a fig for your insult—for you or your money, either. But I told you that Nan loved me. Your words are insulting to her. I guess there's only one kind of answer that a man like you can understand——”
His blow knocked the elder man against the door frame and jarred the shed.
Men came running from the mill and the near-by sheds, and a crowd gathered at the doorway, for it was a grand sight. Jason Johnson knocked Delaney down three times, and then put the boots to him; by this time Delaney was warmed up, and evaded the boots, and went into the elder man with both fists and feet. Then it was soon over, and it was not Delaney who was knocked cold.
Cap'n Allers took Jason Johnson up to his house, helped him wash up and patch up, gave him a drink or so. It cannot be denied that the man showed his hurts. A black frown on his bruised face, he walked back to the dock without so much as a “God-bless-ye” for any soul he met.
When he reached the yacht it was bad news that he found waiting for him.
That afternoon the gale drew down harder than ever, sweeping the clouds from the sky and blowing great guns from the west. The telephone line to Charlevoix was dead. Another barge crept in for shelter, with word that the Griffin was ashore in the Charlevoix channel.
Toward evening Delaney cleaned up, shaved and dressed in his best. Barring a cut or two, he showed small signs of the encounter with Jason Johnson. He knew that the yacht was laid up, and had been making a few plans of his own.
DELANEY was sitting down to supper when Bill Allers dropped in, bringing the news.
“The millionaire is in a bad way,” said Bill, with a joyous grin. “Glory be, how money does torment a man! Before the telephone line bruk down, he had bad news from Chicago and now he can't send a message. He's like to lose money.”
“Good for him,” said Delaney.
“That ain't all,” said Bill Allers. “The brass-and-mahogany outfit won't run, and he's offered big money to any man who'll take a message to the mainland. He says to me, 'I'll give ye a hundred flat to do it.' I says, 'Not for five hundred! No man's fool enough to try to cross in a gas boat, with the sea that'll be runnin' outside Skillagalee.' Tom Fat Mary Boyle, bein' drunk, agreed to go, but his wife heard of it and that settled the matter.”
Delaney grinned. He and Bill Allers were partners at the fishing.
“I was thinking some of taking our boat and running down the shore, if you'd run the engines,” said he. “But not for money, Bill. The girl aboard that yacht, d'ye see? If she'd go, now——”
“Oh!” said Bill, and stared at him. “She's the Chicago girl, is she? Glory be! I'll go with ye in a minute, Ed!”
“Well, I'll have to see if she'll go,” said Delaney, and rose from the table. “Go on home and get your supper, Bill. I'll let you know.”
“Then, for the love o' Mike, slip the word quiet!” said Bill solemnly. “If Kitty thought I was goin' out tonight, she'd raise sand, and I don't want my happy home bruk up. I'll get a bite to eat, then come down to the McCann dock. That's the best way.”
So it was agreed. Delaney caught up his hat and went down to the dock, caring nothing about Jason Johnson, but wondering how he could get word with Nan. Before reaching the large dock, he saw lanterns bobbing inside the Booth dock, and a flashlight at work. He saw Eddie Gallegher limping up toward town, hailed him, and Eddie gave a laugh.
“Sure, the millionaire's bought the old Norah, and is going to run her over to the mainland his own self! They're puttin' gas aboard her now.”
“Why, he's a fool!” exclaimed Delaney.
“So he's been told. It makes no differ to him. Money's a wonderful blinder!”
DELANEY went on to the McCann dock, and there he met Cap'n Johnny Wright, walking up and down and softly swearing to himself. When they were known to each other in the darkness, Delaney asked if the news was true.
“Aye,” said Cap'n Johnny. “And because we're all married men aboard here and not entirely fools, the lad Gaunt is going to run him over. Not a man could he hire to go out tonight. Who'd risk his life to help a rich man make more money?”
“Not me,” said Delaney. "Who's this Gaunt?”
“He's hoping to marry your girl.”
“Oh!” said Delaney, and whistled. “She didn't write me of that. Is he a good man?”
“Good outside,” said Cap'n Johnny. “He fancies himself. Says he can pilot the Norah across, and between them they can manage the engines. Is she a good boat?”
“Housed and stanch enough, but bad engines,” said Delaney. “If they get across, it'll be by drifting. Where's Miss Johnson? I want to see her.”
Cap'n Johnny grunted. “Her dad said good-by to her, told her to stay aboard the yacht, and ordered me not to leave her set foot ashore. Then he went along.”
“Since when were you a policeman?” said Delaney.
“He didn't wait for me to ask him that,” said Cap'n Johnny, and laughed. “Ye can't go aboard, lad, but I'm no detective and no guard, neither. If the girl comes ashore, confound Johnson's orders! His money don't buy me! It buys a skipper.”
“Good for you, Cap'n Johnny!” said the voice of Nan, and with a laugh she scrambled up from the boat and stood before them. Cap'n Johnny walked off down the dock, like a sensible man, and lighted his pipe in the lee of the shed.
Presently he came back to them and heard Nan speaking about her father's big deal that had gone wrong.
“If he can't get word to Chicago by tomorrow morning he loses a lot of money,” she was saying scornfully. “His existence is centered on the stock market. Money, power—it means everything to him. And for this deal, he'll risk his life!”
“He'll lose it sure, in that boat,” said Delaney. “Can't you stop him?”
“Nothing can stop him. What am I to him but an incident? September wheat is going down unless he can get word to Chicago in the morning—that's all he knows.”
“September wheat—h'm!” said Delaney thoughtfully, “Well, Nan, I did have some hope that you'd maybe take a little trip in my boat down the shore to the priest's house, and then down to the head of the island: We might stop with the Coles for a day or so until the wind is down, then to Charlevoix and the railroad——”
“How can I do that, Ed, knowing that dad's gone to his death for dirty money?”
“True enough,” said Delaney. “Yet a fool can't be stopped.”
“He might be brought back,” put in Cap'n Johnny.
“Oh!” said Delaney. ”That's true, too, Bill. Allers would go with me—best engineer on the island and afraid of nothing, except his wife. The boat's all ready, nothing to do but cast off. We might do it——”
“Do what?” demanded Nan anxiously.
“Go after your dad; bring him and Gaunt back. Their engines are bound to go wrong and they'll drift. We could pick °em up——” He stood silent a moment, then laughed out. “Nan, I might not bring him back; I might go on to Petoskey with him. September wheat, eh? Why not? I've a notion to do it. I've money in the bank in Chicago——”
“Don't be a fool, you!” said Cap'n Johnny angrily.
“Sure. But I know my boat—that's everything. Here's Bill now.”
Bill Allers came up to them. Delaney introduced him, then continued swiftly:
“Bill, take Miss Johnson and the cap'n over to our dock. You and I are going right out after the Norah—maybe we'll go to Petoskey. Money in it and fun more than money. Is that searchlight rigged up?”
“Aye, works fine,” said Bill. “Sure, I'll go.”
“Then I'll run home and change clothes, and be right down. See that a spare can of oil's aboard. Nan, don't you worry a mite! Our boat is safe as a barn in any sea. So long! Meet you at the dock.”
He turned and was off at a run.
Meanwhile, Gaunt and Jason Johnson tried out the engines of the Norah, and they ran smooth as silk. The rich man cursed the islanders for cowardly farmers, and Gaunt laughed, and there was no warning the two of them; for Jason Johnson thought only of Chicago wheat, and Gaunt thought only of himself as a hero. So away they went.
DELANEY was slow to reach his boat, since he lived at the other end of town. He did not want to advertise his going, for news of it would reach Bill's wife, and then there would be trouble, so he was just as glad that no lights showed aboard her as he approached. When he stood on her deck and stooped to get in beneath the roof of the house, he saw Bill Allers and Nan looking over the engine by the aid of an electric torch.
“Leave the lights off until we get out o' the harbor,” he said. “The Norah's off ahead of us, but we'll soon pick her up. Start her up, Bill.”
Bill Allers had been warming up the engines and they started humming at the turn of the wheel. Nan leaned over, checked them down and down, then let them go full. Delaney nodded and caught her hand.
"Good-by, dear,” said he, and met her lips for an instant. “Cast off, Bill.”
Illustration: “He'll lose his life sure in that boat— can't you stop him?”
Bill Allers, who had donned slicker and boots and sou'wester, climbed outside and gave the girl a hand. She went to the dock with him. Delaney switched on the binnacle light and then went aft to make sure that everything was lashed down fast. He came back and stuck out his head.
“Get a move on, Bill!”
“Line's stuck,” said Bill. Nan called a good-by from the darkness. Then Delaney drew back as Bill's oilskins rustled in his face, and his engineer crawled inside. The boat was moving forward, for Delaney had thrown in the clutch before the lines were off.
As she drew clear of the dock an angry yell came from shore, and then another. Delaney glanced back at the figure of Bill Allers, stooped over the engines with an oil can.
“Sounds like Cap'n Johnny Wright,” said he, and grinned. “He's too late. Hope he doesn't rouse Kitty, or you'll be in hot water. What the dickens is he yelling for?”
Bill Allers grunted, without replying. Delaney wondered briefly why Cap'n Johnny Wright was yelling after him, but he was slow to discover the reason, for all his attention was now given to getting past the barges and out to where the lights of the Norah were tossing, just inside the red gleam of the lighthouse. And when he did make the discovery, he was too late.
DELANEY and Bill could do no talking, for the closed house reverberated to the hum of the engines. Delaney stood at the open bow window, the exhaust gas bobbing past hit ind watched the bobbing light ahead they were out in the channel now and getting the sweep of seas, and though it was not so bad as it would be later, Delaney kept his eve on the binnacle and watched for the flash from Isle aux Galets. Bill Allers was not a talker at best, and now the engines did the talking for him.
Outside the harbor Delaney switched on the lights. A small bulb in the ceiling illuminated the interior of the boat dimly and he tried the searchlight to make sure it was working. The sky was clear, though a deep bank of clouds was massed to the north, and the wind was switching about slightly.
Not for half an hour or more did Delaney turn from the ever-whirling spokes, or remove his eyes from the bobbing light ahead. The boat heaved up on the whirling seas, the helm easing her off as she fell; they came up behind her, lifted her, threw her into the air, dropped her again, climbed over the stern and hammered at the house.
“Check down!” shouted Delaney, turning to look at Bill Allers. “Nail another bar across that rear door or it'll bust in! Seas getting heavy——”
As she fell to the sea the quick-racing propeller was checked, the humming roar of the engines lessened. Again silence—straining minutes as each sea swept up and passed with its threat. Suddenly Delaney switched on the searchlight, overhead, and sent its reaching beam out across the white water ahead. His vibrant shout pierced the roar.
“Here they are—reverse, Bill, reverse! Take the wheel—drift down on her—quick!”
The engines reversed, then died. Cursing furiously at the mishap, yet not daring to delay, Delaney seized the line hanging beside him and thrust himself out on the forward deck, slippery with water. A swift glance showed him the figure of Bill Allers taking the wheel, then he turned again to the disaster dead ahead, as the searchlight revealed it.
Disaster it was, dread and terrible. The Norah lay swinging to the waves, engines dead, rolling heavily. On her scrap of deck, forward of her house, crouched Gaunt above the senseless figure of Jason Johnson; he stared up into the searchlight beam, his face white and terrified. Delaney cursed him for not having closed the windows of the house—water was pouring into the Norah from each wave. With every moment increased the danger that a high sea would toss her up and roll her over.
Delaney stood up, feet braced wide. A smash was inevitable, since his own engines had failed to reverse; he hurled the line from a wave crest, hurled his shout after it.
“Make fast to him! Make fast, you fool! Make fast!”
Gaunt, who was not the fool Delaney thought him, caught the line. Spray bursting over them, he got it about Johnson's body. All in a minute it was—a fast and terrible minute, as the looming fish boat hung over the Norah, then crashed down. At the shock, Delaney lost balance and came to his knees, but hauled in the line. Then Gaunt was crawling over the gunwale beside him; he heaved in the line, and as the two craft drew apart briefly Delaney leaned down and got a grip on Johnson's clothes. Gaunt took hold, and they dragged the senseless man inboard.
A sea hurled the boat up, smashed her down upon the Norah once more. Under his feet Delaney felt the timbers groan and crack. The searchlight was jarred out; the three figures on the wet foredeck all but went overboard. Delaney turned a terrible face to Bill Allers.
“Bill! What the deuce you doin' there? Start her up—reverse her—reverse her!”
THE words died on his lips. Te straining face beneath the sou'wester, the face framed in the window over him, was not that of Bill Allers. It was the face of Nan Johnson.
Delaney was stricken mute. The face vanished; next moment he felt the engines throbbing, realized that the boat was drawing away from the shattered and sinking Norah. Somehow he dragged Johnson to the window, thrust him in, found Gaunt shrieking something in panic —and a burst of water deluged him as the boat swung broadside to the seas. Striking Gaunt aside, Delaney hurled himself into the opening came to his feet, seized the helm. The boat swung, swept up on the next sea, turned, pointed landward.
“Get in!” yelled Delaney, and helped Gaunt scramble through the opening. “Take this wheel and hold her steady or I'll murder you! Johnson dead?”
Gaunt, incredulity and bewildered panic in his face, shook his head.
“Flung headfirst into the engine,” he chattered.
“Steel Head!” grunted Delaney. “No wonder your engine stalled. Hold her steady, now.”
He wiped the water from his eves and dragged the unconscious man aft. Nan rose from the engines and met his gaze, then looked at her father's figure
“He's stunned, no more,” said Delaney, and lifted the head of Jason Johnson to a pile of life belts. The girl knelt beside him. “Head's cut, but the blood's running free. Scalp wound. Let him alone. How'd you get aboard here?”
Nan shrank a little from his angry eyes, then rallied.
“I made your friend Bill change places with me, give me his oilskins. I know enough about engines to run these—and Bill showed me all about——”
“And that's why we're stove in for'ard,” said Delaney. Then a laugh came to his lips. “All right! Now we can't go back—we can't head into these seas. We've got to keep before the wind and make Petoskey.”
Her eyes widened, because of his laugh. "You—then you don't care?”
“Care? Not a bit!” Delaney laughed again. “Stick to the engines, Nan! We'll make it, you and I——”
A lurch of the boat startled him. He turned, saw Gaunt staring back at the girl with face agape. Delaney caught up a wrench from the floor and hurled it. It struck the searchlight beside Gaunt's head and sent a shower of glass splinters tinkling.
“Hold her steady!” he roared, and Gaunt turned again to his job. “Good for you, Nan!” Delaney caught the girl's hands, and laughter again danced in his blue eyes. “I'm going to make that fool work. Call me if you need me——”
He brought her lips up to meet his, then went forward and stood feet braced, beside Gaunt. Well he knew, whose iron muscles had felt the strain, what labor it was to hold the heavy craft up to each sea, keep the wheel going, feel for the surge and hold her in it.
“Where ye headin' for?” he bellowed, and pointed to the white flash to port. “Up with her—up! There's Skillagalee. That ain't Gray's Reef, ye fool! Now hold her straight as she lays. I'm heading in under eight-mile point to get out o' the foul water, and if ye don't keep her steady we'Ell hit the shoals. Ease her off—ease her! Where in time did you ever learn to wheel?”
Gaunt stood silent, shoulder heaving to the wheel, while the heavier seas now caught the boat and sent her surging and tossing like a cork. Delaney lighted his pipe and enjoyed himself, until he remembered the broken bows. Then, stifling a curse, he got the electric torch, crawled out on the foredeck, and between seas managed to get a look at the prow. Dripping wet, he hauled himself in again, satisfied. The pump he knew would keep her cleared.
Jason Johnson remained unconscious. He was badly hurt, but Delaney reassured the girl, knowing that for the present nothing could be done. From Gaunt he demanded the message that Johnson had wanted sent, and Gaunt handed over a folded paper. Gaunt was slowly getting orientated; but for the present he stood in stark fear of this iron-faced man with the blue eyes. He guessed that this was Delaney, and, not being a coward at heart, he was gradually beginning to reassert himself. The spell of the heaving waters was still upon him, however; he was slow to get rid of his twofold fear.
Nan felt her way forward to where Delaney stood reading the telegram. He looked around at her and uttered a laugh.
“I'll send this in the morning—after I send a message of my own!” he exclaimed gustily. “I'm going to rip a little hide off your dad, Nan, metaphorically speaking. I want to walk in on him with news that he's helped me to clean up heavy on September wheat. Eh? He——”
“Good!” cried the girl eagerly. “And if you need any money, I have some of my own. I'll go partners with you, Ed! But about dad—he's not badly hurt?”
Delaney cast a glance at the inert form.
“His head's stove in, yes, but he's better off the way he is, Nan. Don't try to revive him. We'll rush him right up to the hospital from the dock. No, don't be afraid; he's just knocked out, that's all.”
None the less, the girl was presently seated by her father, his head in her lap.
An hour had passed since the two boats came together, and another hour was drawing by. Nearly three-quarters of it gone. Now Delaney was searching anxiously off the port bow, seeking the headland, vainly. The sky was murky again, the Isle aux Galets light was behind them, and he had not yet picked up the Petoskey light, though the city glare was distinct against the horizon. All this while Gaunt stood silent at the wheel, and had Delaney known him better, this silence would have been a warning sign.
SUDDENLY Delaney leaped to the wheel, thrust Gaunt aside, threw the bow to starboard. The headland—desperately close! He waited, breathless, as the boat drove ahead. The shoal was unmarked. Minutes passed, dragging heavily, until he realized that the danger must be past. Then the lights of an automobile glimmered along the shore road. He drew a breath of relief, set his course anew, searched the red light that marked Harbor Point. The seas were going down now, as he realized.
Then, suddenly, the red glow shot into view. At the same instant a cry broke from Delaney, echoed by a shriller cry from Nan. Delaney felt his hands go lax on the spokes, half turned, saw Gaunt standing over him—felt another blow—and crumpled up.
Gaunt dropped the wooden billet he had used as a weapon, and seized the wheel.
The tumbling, surging crests had given place to a long, steady roll on which the boat drifted aimless, without danger. Off to the left glowed the red eye of the Harbor Point light; ahead, the glare of Petoskey had disintegrated into a cluster of scintillating dots, red and white, marking the town on the steep hillside and the railroad crossings.
Gaunt, abandoning the wheel, faced the infuriated girl. All his stubborn tenacity was to the fore, and now he met anger with anger, word with word, while at his feet lay the unconscious Delaney.
“So that's your fine islander!” he stormed, almost insensate with passion. “I heard the whole thing, Nan never mind about the heroics! He makes a grand-stand play at saving your father's life, then schemes to hold up the message and get into the stock market with his own piker's wad—at your father's expense! That's the sort of man you want to marry, is it? Well, you sha'n't do it——”
“Shame on you!” burst out the girl. “After he saved your life——”
“SAVED nothing!” Gaunt sneered coldly. “You call it saving our lives to ram us, run into us and sink us? That's all he did, you silly little fool! He made a fine bluff at it to impress you. Why, in another five minutes I'd have had a tarpaulin rigged up for'ard and we'd have blown straight down the bay into Petoskey! That was our scheme from the first if the engines went dead. The boat was perfectly safe, and would have ridden straight before the wind like a cork!”
For an instant Nan stood aghast, her whole being rebellious against this plausible tale, knowing it for a lie and yet perceiving at a flash how pregnant with danger to Delaney the situation had become.
“It's a lie—a lie!” she cried out. “I made him come—they all said your boat was not safe——”
“Oh, yes, yes!” Gaunt laughed harshly at her, for he Was inflated now with his own dominance, with his command of the situation. “And he leaped at the chance. Brought you out alone with him. Ran us down—can you deny it? Did it deliberately! And I heard him tell you his scheme. Nan, I'm ashamed of you—allied with this man, risking your father's life to help this fellow rob him! Now, get back there and attend to your father. I'll do the rest of the job.”
Nan, staring wide-eyed at him. slowly retreated, obeyed the command. She was helpless against him, and the lurking brutality in his eyes frightened her, daunted her. Those two cruel blows from behind, felling Delaney like a log, had stricken her terribly. Worse than this sight was the realization which now burst upon her, full force. Gaunt was clever. In Jason Johnson's heart was no mercy or pity. Of what worth was her testimony? Delaney would be condemned by the lies of Gaunt, and her father, unscrupulous, would refuse to admit them lies. It was all lost, lost beyond hope! No matter what happened now, Gaunt would lie and Jason Johnson would back up the lie.
She sat, dumbly miserable, while Gaunt wheeled the boat for Petoskey. She did not even go to Delaney, who lay motionless; but, with her wet handkerchief, dabbed at the blood which caked her father's hair. Gaunt, ignoring her, left the wheel, went to the engines, set them at full speed, and then returned to his post. He was for the moment very sure of himself, exultant, confident, though Nan remembered the panic in his eyes as he had come aboard.
Time passed. Presently Gaunt turned and called the girl.
“Nan! Come here and see if you can make out the light. There should be a fixed red light at the end of the breakwater, according to Cap'n Johnny.”
She rose and came forward, standing beside the still motionless figure of Delaney. Out ahead of them lay Gaunt's perplexity—a mass of lights rising from the water, up the steep hill slopes of Petoskey. And instead of one red light to guide them, three appeared.
“I don't know,” she said slowly. “Railroad lights, I suppose——”
“But which one is ours?”
“Find out.” She laughed angrily, bitterly. “Coward that you are! Now finish the job if you can.”
THERE was a stir and a movement at her feet. Gaunt, peering from the window, head thrust out for better vision did not note it. But Nan stared at Delaney, who came to his feet, swaying, staggering; he met her eyes, and a laugh came to his lips.
“Confound it!” said Gaunt, querulously. “There's no way of telling—impossible to see any channel or which light——”
Delaney darted a glance ahead. Then his voice leaped.
“Nan! Check the engines—quick! This fool will pile us up——”
Gaunt whirled, as the girl darted aft. A sneer touched his face at sight of Delaney.
“You! Stay out of it——”
“Not dead yet,” said Delaney, and struck, a laugh on his lips
Crouching over the reversed engines, Nan watched, fear in her eyes. For the second time that day Delaney received a battering and gave scarce a blow in return; weak, dazed, hurt, he could do little as Gaunt went into him with a vicious fury. He was beaten back, sent reeling against the side of the boat. Gaunt leaped after him to give the finishing blow.
But a swing of the craft sent Gaunt staggering, off balance.
The moment of breathing space rallied Delaney, sent him forward to meet the attack. Strength flooded back to him; he stopped Gaunt with a crushing blow to the mouth, followed it with right and left, got in a smashing drive of his knee that left Gaunt gasping and reeling. The two men crashed back and forth across the narrow deck. A fling of the boat hurled them headlong against the side; Delaney, first to recover, snapped in a blow, then another—two blows, swift as light. Gaunt fell over sideways and went limp.
“Half speed, Nan—quick about it!”
Startled, the girl jerked into action, dimly realizing that Delaney was at the helm. His laugh reached her. . “Red to the right—red to the right! We're in, Nan. When we touch the wharf, jump ashore, phone for a taxi—get your dad to the hospital. Leave this fool where he is. Not dead yet, by glory! Better get out on deck and be ready to jump——”
Nan did not answer, for she had not the heart. She could not tell him that it was all useless—that her father, even had he been conscious, was merciless; that he would surely believe the lies of Gaunt! All useless.
JASON JOHNSON, grimly silent, looked from one to the other. Against its encircling bandage, in the bright morning sunlight of the hospital room, his face was revealed in all its pitiless strength, implacable as granite, untouched by emotion. He had listened in this same silence as each of them spoke—Gaunt coolly and carefully, Nan in a hopeless yet fiery indignation of denial.
He looked at them and said nothing. Gaunt briefly recapitulated.
“A very clever scheme all through—and I'm afraid Nan was imposed upon. Perhaps she didn't realize how clever the rascal was! He saw that I was getting that tarpaulin rigged up, yet he deliberately ran us down, rammed and sank the boat, all but cost us our lives! Of course, when he gave away his scheme I understood his action——”
“Oh, liar!” said Nan, softly. “I've told how it really happened——”
She fell silent, as the nurse came into the room and spoke.
“There's a Mr. Delaney here asking for Miss Johnson——”
Nan turned, but was checked by her father's voice.
“Stop, Nan! Let him come right in.”
Gaunt smiled at that.
An agony of impatience seized the girl. If she had only been given a chance to warn Delaney, to tell him of the lies, to guard him against what was coming! She saw how her father, merciless, would seize at the least pretext to condemn the man she loved
Delaney stepped through the doorway, and his cheerful smile died under Nan”s gaze.
“Hello, is this a lodge of sorrow? claimed. “I hear your head's all right, Mr. Johnson. No wonder. It'd bust a pile driver to lam you over the head. By the way, I just sent off that message of yours.”
He came to the foot of the bed, meeting the deep-boring gaze of Jason Johnson with a merry twinkle in his blue eyes. If his head and body were hurt and sore, he gave no evidence of it.
“That's what I want to ask you about,” said Jason Johnson grimly. “When did you send it?”
“Ten minutes ago; nine-thirty exactly,” Delaney chuckled. “I figured that would give me time enough to put over my own little deal in September wheat.”
“Oh! That was your scheme, eh? Took a bit of my hide, did you?”
Delaney laughed, not noting the smile on the lips of Gaunt, or the wide gaze of Nan.
“Took a real big bite, I hope,” he said cheerfully. “Got any kick?”
Jason Johnson lay silent. Nan watched him with terrible eyes. He would believe Gaunt, even against her—she knew he must. For otherwise he must give in completely to Delaney, admit that he owed his life to the man, knuckle under in all ways; and this was a thing that Jason Johnson had never done to any one.
Suddenly Johnson shifted his gaze to Gaunt.
“Gaunt, do something for me, will you?”
“Sure,” said Gaunt eagerly. ”What?”
“Get out of here and don't come back,” said Jason Johnson coldly. “D'ye think I'd ever take your word against that of my girl? You fool! Get out of here.”
A shocked, incredulous silence filled the room. Delaney, still ignorant of what had preceded his entry, was the only one not staggered by these words. Laughing, he turned to Gaunt.
“Congratulations!” he said, and grinned.
But Jason Johnson, who felt Nan drop to her knees at his bedside, who felt her tears fall hot upon his hand, knew he had gained the one thing in the world which until now he had so vainly sought. He looked up at Delaney, with the shadow of a smile.
“Delaney,” he said, “you give me three months with my girl, here, and then you can take her. Agreed?”
“What's the idea?” demanded Delaney, who carried a chip on his shoulder for Jason Johnson.
“A big one.” And now Jason Johnson actually smiled. “I'm beat, Delaney. I think maybe she and I can get to know each other—if you'll give us the chance. Will you?”
“Will I?” Delaney's eyes widened, as he realized something of the truth. “Will I? Don't ask me—ask the skipper! Will I, Nan?”
And Nan, looking up at him, smiling through her tears, pressed her father's hand.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1949, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 73 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
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