McClure's Magazine/Volume 55/Number 8/Gallegher's Devil

Gallegher’s Devil  (1923) 
by H. Bedford-Jones
Extracted from McClure's Magazine, Oct 1923, pp. 60-66, 124-128. Accompanying illustrations by Douglas Duer may be omitted.

A Humorous Tale of the Great Lakes

Illustrations by
Douglas Duer

Gallegher’s Devil

A Quaint Tale of Stormy Days on the Great Lakes

By H. Bedford-Jones

THE summer Cap'n Vesty Gallegher came home to Beaver Island, after forty years on the big ocean—though he'd been back now and again—there was hard times up and down the islands. Even the Israelites on High Island looked peaked behind their beards. The fishing was poor, crops were worse, prices were high, and even the huckleberry swamps on the mainland promised no yield, so that the Indians were like to starve next winter. Tourists were few, and every one knew that Kitty Dunlevy would lose the hotel come autumn, on the mortgage to the Charlevoix bank, and she going on fifty. A pity was this, since Kitty had a smile for all and a bit of roguery in her eye that would charm a saint, and she alone in the world with sorrows behind her.

Cap'n Vesty Gallegher got off the mail boat, and another man with him, and in no time at all the word was spreading that Cap'n Vesty was home for good. It was ten years since the island had seen him, and there was great hand-shaking and greeting on the dock. The other man was Cap'n Connie O'Brien, whom nobody knew at all, and he a little old man with a limp, one eyebrow lifting up toward his white hair, a thin, hooked nose and a quick and piercing eye that missed nothing. When the people came up from the dock, Father John and Salty Gallegher were standing by McCann's store, and the good Father shook his head.

“That big man's Cap'n Vesty,” said he to Salty. “The big heart of him in his eye, and his red face the same as ever, though his hair's white.”

“Firm step,” said Salty, who wasted no words.

“Aye, and a boy's heart in him, and no decenter man ever lived! But by this and by that, would ye take two looks at the old divil walking beside him!”

“One's enough,” said Salty.

Finishing the pull up the loose sand, the two came to the sidewalk with the crowd trailing them; Cap'n Vesty Gallegher gripped the hand of the priest, and clapped him hard on the back, and his red, salt-bitten face was beaming.

“Father, it's an old man ye are,” said he, “but you'll live to bury me yet, praise be! Don't nobody ever die on the island, then?” he asked, with a wink at his companion.

“None but Galleghers,” said the priest, with a chuckle, and there was some truth to it. “Ye old rascal, I hear ye've done with wanderin' up and down the earth!”

“Glory be, I have that,” said Cap'n Vesty, and pulled forward his friend. “Here, Father, meet me old friend and brother skipper, Cap'n Connie O'Brien, who's come to visit me and maybe end his days in peace! We're the same age to a day, and that's just sixty-two come Michaelmas.”

From the way of him, one gathered that he had known Cap'n Connie these many years.

“I'm glad to meet ye,” said Father John. He gripped the hand of Cap'n Connie, who gave him a keen look and the half a smile on his leathery old face. “From the north of Ireland?”

“From County Cork,” said Cap'n Connie.

“Oh! Then it's a Southern O'Brien ye are!” exclaimed the Father.

YES, it is,” put in Cap'n Vesty hurriedly, knowing that there was feeling against them of the south. “Cap'n Connie has a gold watch for saving his ship and passengers, Father, and a medal besides, and when the Germans blowed up his ship in the war, his leg was hurt and he got another medal for that, praise be! And now we'll be goin' up to the hotel, and if you'll drop in on us tonight we'll be more than glad of the honor.”

“I'll do that, Vesty,” said the Father, and watched the two of them go on up the sidewalk, but there was a queer look in his eye.

The welcome that Cap'n Vesty got was that of a great man, for he had made money on the sea and had property waiting for him at home. Cap'n Vesty was the last of the older line of Galleghers, having ties of blood with most of the island families, and one reason he had come home was that a farm was waiting for him by Mount Pisgah, and another down toward the head, both good ones and he heir to them both. Those who saw him greet Kitty Dunlevy at the hotel gate said there was maybe another and better reason, for he took her two hands and kissed her cheek, and swung her up in the air with a great laugh. Mother McCann was standing by, and told him to take shame for such actions, at which he turned and gave her the same, and she cursing him, but with a laugh in her eye until he set her down. Cap'n Connie shook hands pleasantly enough, and by all accounts was a civil-spoken man.

Illustration: Darkness was gathering when they came staggering toward the breakwater, where the currents were treacherous and the seas thundering in. Crowds of people were watching to see the shipwreck

QUITE a few dropped in at the hotel that evening, for Sevinsky, the hardwood cruiser, had brought a drop of brandy from the Canadian Sault, so what with one thing and another nobody minded a chat around the fire. Willy John was there, and Big Owen, and Salty, and Tight Gallegher with his crutch was in from the farm, and a cattle buyer from Charlevoix, and Willy Boyle and a few besides, with Kitty Dunlevy and the two McCann girls who helped her with the running of the hotel. There was talk of old times and them that were buried long since, and visiting into Sevinsky's room and out again, and the fire crackled on the hearth with a bit of oak from the old Mormon schooner in Cap'n Allers' back yard. In the easy-chair sat Cap'n Vesty, smoking big cigars and looking like a boy for all the years on him, which was a way the Galleghers had. Cap'n Connie sat in the corner and said never a word, but missed nothing.

After a bit old Neil McCann came in and spread himself before the blaze. Old he was, past ninety, white-bearded and a trifle deaf for his age, with a mortal sharp tongue to him. He clawed his beard, looked Cap'n Vesty up and down, and spoke out.

“It's a spry lad ye are, Vesty,” said he, “and a rich man, wid money in your fist and cattle runnin' by the head of the island, and two farms and piannys in 'em both. Is it a good son of the church ye are this day, and come by your money honest?”

Cap'n Vesty tipped Father John a wink, and took the cigar from his mouth.

“I hope so, Neil,” he shouted.

Old Neil clawed his beard and spat in the fire.

“Then,” said he, “the day we left Ireland together I made your poor father—rest his sowl!—the loan o' twenty pound, and it's never been repaid. And what's more, me lad, yonder's Tom O'Donnell and him in a bad way, owin' money for his nets and the fish runnin' poor; and yonder's Kitty Dunlevy, who'll lose the hotel to the bank this year on the mortgage, whilst you sit here wid a cigar in the teeth of ye and a grin on your red face!”

Cap'n Vesty stared at him a minute, then swung to his feet and turned.

“Is that so!” said he. “Tom, how much do ye owe on them nets?”

“Eight hundred for the twine and the makin', Vesty,” said Tom O' Donnell.

Cap'n Vesty reached in his hip pocket and hauled out a mortal big pocketbook and unhitched the clasp of it.

“Here's your eight hundred,” said he, with a flutter of yellowbacks as he counted them out. He turned again to old Neil. “And here's your twenty pound, with a trifle of interest. Kitty, me lass! We'll lift the mortgage tomorry, and ye'll make me out a fresh one for the matter o' three months, and damn the interest!”

There was a minute of silence; while Cap'n Connie leaned forward, his glittering eyes shining like jet. Then everybody began to talk at once.

ON the Thursday night after this, there was a dance in the schoolhouse for the benefit of the new roof on the church, and things happened.

While the Pisgah farm, close by town, was being fixed up for them to live in, Cap'n Vesty and Cap'n Connie were staying at the hotel. By this time Cap'n Connie was not badly liked. Though he had no religion and was a small man with a limp to him, there was a fund of things beneath the surface, and amazing knowledge. He had a masterful way with him; and with maybe a drink or two under his skin he could tell tales of the sea and ships and men, and had some most surprising oaths that even Willy Boyle had never heard, and he for forty years a bartender.

In the meanwhile, Cap'n Vesty had bought a Ford car to be fetched over from the mainland, and lent out amounts of money to any who needed it, with the smile ever on his red face and the twinkle in his blue eye, and the open heart to all. Cap'n Connie made him take paper for the loans, and security, and though Cap'n Vesty laughed at all that, men said it was only fair.

On the night of the dance, the two old skippers came bringing Kitty Dunlevy between them, though it was Cap'n Vesty who had the first dance with her. About the door there were Joe Bowery and Conn Gatcliff and a few more lads, and many a one of them with a bottle under his coat, while Sevinsky had brought a spoonful of brandy along. Cap'n Connie fell into talk with them, and none had to ask him twice for his opinion of their liquor, since he was a grand judge and willing to oblige. Now when the lads saw that it began to get the edge of him, they sent word in to Cap'n Vesty, and out he came; and pretty soon there was more talk and laughter outside the door than there was dancing on the floor, with Cap'n Vesty showing how a sea shanty was sung, and Cap'n Connie to back him. Then somebody let slip the wrong word, and Cap'n Connie took it up in a flash.

“Old, is it?” said he. “Old as I am and lame as I am, by the poker I can step down any lad of ye! What are ye but a lot o' fresh-water farmers?”

Illustration: “Gallegher's Divil!” said Kitty. “Get out o' here, for I'd not marry the likes of you if ye was the last man on the Beavers—ye ould thievin' divil, ye!”

“Stow your jaw!” said Cap'n Vesty, laughing and all in good humor. “These lads ha' been sailing real craft, skipper, whilst ye been mastering iron boats under steam. Aye, and——

“Iron boats, is it?”

Cap'n Connie whirled, with a glare in his eye that made the lads fall quiet. An evil glare it was, and the lip drew back from his yellow teeth, and the uptwisted eyebrow made him look like the foul fiend in the picture of hell that hangs in Willy John's house.

“Iron boats!” said he. “Ye old wreck of a bilged barnacle, ye crazy old dodderin' hulk of misspent humanity, who are ye to tell me of iron boats, and you with one foot in the grave? Did ye ever hear o' the Blackball days, ye old ruin? Whist!” he cried contemptuously.

Cap'n Vesty laughed at him, and took another pull at Sevinsky's bottle.

“The Blackball packets were off the seas afore your time, me lad,” said he.

“Is that so!” screamed Cap'n Connie, who was now in a fury and no mistake. “Didn't I sail wid ol' Marshall, the son of Alexander—him wid the steel hand—and Bully Forrester, and ol' Peabody of the Neptune? A packet rat, that's what I was, same as Harry Lovell and Cutface Sullivan! A lot ye know, ye poor old whisperin' hulk, that never heard a shanty sung right in your life, to talk to the likes o' me!”

“G'wan wid ye,” laughed Cap'n Vesty, though beginning to feel a bit spry his own self. “Who's sayin' I'm old, eh?”

“I am!” yelled Cap'n Connie, his gnarled fingers opening and closing before him as he glared. “If I had ye on a quarterdeck, ye old fossil, I'd show ye who was best man!”

“Step him down, Vesty!” sung out somebody. From the look on Cap'n Connie's face, more than one was afraid of murder being done. “On the flure wid 'em! Hey, Micky Briggs!”

There was shoving and pushing, while Micky Briggs got to the piano with his fiddle, and struck into the jig, and another minute saw everybody off the floor and the two old sea captains stepping each other down like any young lads. There was a large difference in the way they did it, however—Cap'n Vesty laughing and winking at the girls along the wall, his white hair flying like a mop and his fingers snapping on the high steps, and every one on the broad grin with him; and Cap'n Connie with a glare and a savage snarl, putting out a nimble step for all of his maimed leg, and his white hair that was curled like a bartender's thatch never a bit mussed, though more than one noticed the flicker of red fire in his dark eyes.

SO it went on and on, with the folks all shouting and applauding, some this one and some that, while Micky Briggs scraped away until he had to rest his arms; yet the two of them never stopped, only yelled at him to keep it up. So he picked up a tune again, and faster they went and faster, Cap'n Vesty's face getting redder and Cap'n Connie's face getting whiter, and the feet of them going every which way.

Salty Gallegher, standing in the doorway, remembered the word of the priest and passed it on to the lads.

“The ould divil is totterin' on his pins,” said he, pointing to Cap'n Connie. “And would ye note the look in his eye the night! Gallegher's divil he is, and no mistake.”

It was there the name got fastened on Cap'n Connie, and “Gallegher's Devil” he was called after that, though later on with more truth than poetry to it.

Well, the two skippers footed it and stepped on until the both of them were staggering. Then the neat white hair of Cap'n Connie suddenly came away and blew off, and lo and behold if it was not a wig! Cap'n Connie gripped for it, but missed, yet he never lost a step but went on dancing, while the white wig lay on the floor. Cap'n Vesty felt of his own hair as though seeing was it still in place, and there was a roar of laughter went up at that.

Perhaps the laugh did it, for without any warning the end came in the middle of a step. Cap'n Connie shut his two eyes and caught at the air, and then down he went in the middle of the floor and lay quiet.

Though Cap'n Vesty dragged up his head, it was seen that Cap'n Connie had fainted dead away, and everybody crowded around with talk and excitement. Through them came Kitty Dunlevy shoving her way. She went to the two and took Cap'n Connie's head in her lap, and looked up at Cap'n Vesty, with anger sparkling in her eye.

“Shame to ye!” said she. “Shame, ye big strappin' Gallegher, to be worryin' a poor old lame man like him into steppin' wid ye! It's all your fault if he dies.”

CAP'N VESTY stared down at her, his jaw fallen, and the sweat running down his cheeks.

“Why,” he stammered, “Kitty—maybe it's so! I hadn't thought o' that, and I'm sorry.”

“Sorrow butters no bread,” she shot back. “Get him out o' this.”

Cap'n Vesty did it, and put him into a buggy and so to the hotel at the other end of town. All the way Kitty lectured Cap'n Vesty on the bad way he was treating the poor old man, and he a guest, and before they got to the hotel Cap'n Vesty was not a happy man. Cap'n Connie was in bed all the next day, though he was none the worse for his dancing, but Kitty would not leave him get up, and mothered him like a baby. Cap'n Vesty asked the old devil's pardon, and all was friendly as usual with them.

A few days after this, the two skippers went out to the farm by Pisgah, to live there. Big Biddy Callahan, she that was Cap'n Vesty's relative by marriage and crippled in her left leg, came to cook and keep the house neat for the both of them.

Though Cap'n Vesty lived on one of his two farms, still and all he was no farmer, and the place not planted nor cared for the whole year past. He and Cap'n Connie, then, did nothing at all but maybe lay in a trifle of wood, though they talked of buying a fine housed boat and doing some fishing in the fall. True it is, as the saying goes, that idle hands fall to poor ways.

Cap'n Vesty drove the Ford car up and down the road, paid visits here and there, and made no enemies with the money he put out in loans. Though he had good paper and security on every loan, devil a bit did he care about interest or a penny here and there, and always he had a hearty smile and a greeting for the debtor and more money if it was wanted, and don't pay until ye please. Cap'n Connie spent a good share of his days in town, talking with this one and that one, and for all his sharp way men thought well of him, though they did not warm to him; and behind his back the name of Gallegher's Devil stuck hard, half in jest though it was.

HE was always to be found at one of the sheds which ring the curving sweep of the deep bay, talking with men as they mended the brown twine or stretched the lacy white gill nets, or swung them over and over on the squeaky drying frames along the sandy beach. Or if he was not there, he was maybe up at the hotel, sitting in the kitchen and watching the white arms of Kitty Dunlevy knead the dough.

For that matter, Cap'n Vesty was often at the hotel himself, and always took Kitty out to the church in his car, the church being three miles from town so that folk from the head may get there the easier. He was alone in the taking, for Cap'n Connie went never anigh the church, though he always had a civil word for Father John when they met. There was some hoping that Cap'n Vesty and Kitty would marry, but the McCann girls that helped with the hotel did say how Kitty had a motherly way when Cap'n Connie was around, so that folk began to wonder a trifle.

ONE day when everybody was down on McCann's dock waiting for the mail boat, and she an hour late from Charlevoix, Father John came walking up to Cap'n Vesty, and after the greeting he gave the old skipper a keen glance of his bright eyes.

“Vesty, my son, is Cap'n Connie an old sea friend? It's an interesting man he is, and ye must have seen high times together on the ocean, isn't it so now?” he asked.

Cap'n Vesty studied his cigar a minute, then glanced around, and spoke softly.

“Well, Father,” said he, a twinkle in his blue eye, “to tell ye the honest truth of it, I met the old rascal in New York, on me way home; and the thought came to me that but for a bit of luck and heaven's blessing, there'd be Vesty Gallegher, an old man and done for. I felt sorry for the old sailorman, so I did, and brung him along. Ye'd not chide me for it, would ye?”

“Not I, ye warm-hearted reprobate,“ said Father John. “At the same time,” he added, “it's me duty to say that charity begins at home.”

Illustration: Then Cap'n Vesty stepped out, laughing and winking, his white hair flying, his fingers snapping

“Oh! Whatever ye lack on the new roof,” said Vesty promptly, “call on me for it, Father.”

An old man was Father John, twenty year on the island and with many a year before that elsewhere. He looked at Cap'n Vesty and smiled, and shook his head a bit as he spoke.

“That's not what I mean, neither,” said he. “Now, what's this Big Biddy Callahan does be tellin' me about you and him playin' cards and gambling with money?”

Cap'n Vesty laid a hand on the priest's shoulder, and laughed softly.

“Whist, now!” said he. “Would ye have it driven into the poor old felly that he's livin' on charity? No, no; it's a proud man is Cap'n O'Brien, and likes to pay his way. See, now, me and him has a bit of a game now and then, and if I lose a trifle o' money, all's well and good.”

“It's not warm-hearted ye are, but soft-hearted,” said Father John. “Well, there's the boat roundin' the south point at last, so let it pass, and more power to ye.”

The days slipped by, and the weeks with them, and while no more was said by the two skippers about buying a housed boat and going to fishing, it was often Cap'n Vesty went out with the lads and helped at the nets, or took a hand pulling stakes as the summer drew on. All went fine at the Pisgah farm, though Big Biddy Callahan was angry at the way Cap'n Vesty let himself be run over, while more than one visitor noticed that it was Cap'n Connie who gave the orders and did this or that. One day when they were alone in the house, Big Biddy spoke up to Cap'n Vesty about it, but he only rolled the cigar in his lips and laughed.

“Tut, tut!” said he. “What difference does it make who gives the orders, Biddy?”

But one Sunday Cap'n Vesty came walking into town, and hired Micky Briggs to get him and Kitty out to church in the jitney, and that afternoon Cap'n Connie was driving the Ford car, and ever after. When somebody spoke of it, Cap'n Vesty rumbled out a laugh, and his blue eyes twinkled, and he said that Cap'n Connie had bought the little car off him.

Only a few days later, a short-time loan to Tom O'Donnell came due; and lo and behold, it was Cap'n Connie who came down to the fish shed and showed the paper, and told Tom to pay up or he'd take the pound nets that were set down, for security. Tom scratched his head and said this and that, and so it came out that Cap'n Connie had bought the paper and there was nought to be done about it. So Tom rustled up the money and paid off Gallegher's Devil.

Then it was that tongues began to wag.

A WONDERFUL thing it was, and mortal hard to believe, but by the end of the summer Cap'n Vesty Gallegher not only had no money, but he was owing every one on the island. Not that it made any difference with him—not a whit! He had the same hearty laugh and twinkle in his eye and the same careless, easy-going way with him, and nobody knew just what to make of it all.

Sure it is that Kitty Dunlevy did not know, though she tried hard enough. When the whisper got around to her, she took Cap'n Vesty into the hotel kitchen and put him into a chair and asked him where was it all his money had gone. This was the same day he sold the farm down by the head to Salty Gallegher. Cap'n Vesty laughed and lighted a cigar and would have passed the matter off, but Kitty would have none of that.

“Lay off wid your blarney!” she said to him. “You came home a rich man, and Cap'n Connie had nothing. Now it's a poor man ye are, Vesty, and him sittin' by wid the bag. Is that it, now? Has he offered ye no help?”

“Many's the time, to be sure,” said Cap'n Vesty. “Would I take money from him? G'wan wid ye, Kitty achree! Ye know I'd not take the poor felly's little store of money, though he'd be glad if I would. What of it? Men go up and come down in the world, lass. Now, if——

“Oh, ye careless rapscallion!” broke out Kitty, between tears and anger at the manner of him. “Have ye no care for what's gone?”

“Divil a bit!” Cap'n Vesty's blue eyes twinkled. “There's better things in the world to be carin' about than money, Kitty, and you're one of the same. Will ye still give me no answer? Is it the white hair that ye don't like? Then I'll cut it off and get me a fine black wig, all curled up grand and elegant——

“Vesty, aren't ye in earnest about anything?” cried Kitty, with a stamp of her foot.

I'M in earnest about you, but what good's it done me?” said Vesty, and that was a true word, for Kitty would give him no answer this long while. “I tell ye now, as I've told ye before this, that for many a weary day I've carried the thought of you over the far ocean, though it seemed that I'd never come home again to tell you of it, and you not married. A foolish thing, it seemed, to be dreamin' about you, Kitty achree, and me sailin' the far seas; but so I did. And now I'm sixty and past, and heaven knows what ye are, though I suppose ye'll never see thirty-five again, whether ye look it or not——

“Will ye leave off the blarney? Every soul on the island knows I'm goin' on fifty,” said Kitty, though her eye softened a little. 'Cap'n Connie asked me last night to marry him.”

That was a stiff one to Cap'n Vesty. He sat with his cigar in his hand, staring up at her with his blue eyes wide. Then came his laugh, with a roar and a merry word.

“Praise be—the poor old rascal!” said he, shaking with laughter. “Wants to marry you, does he? And him growin' feebler every day! Faith, it's an elegant joke——

“Do ye think so?” Kitty put her head on one side. “I don't. He's worth two of ye.”

That stopped Cap'n Vesty's laugh in a hurry, for the thought of losing Kitty frightened him.

“I s'pose,” she went on, “that all this while he's been courtin' me, you've not seen it? Ye poor blessed innocent! Oh, I'd like to shake ye till the teeth rattled! Get out of here. However ye came to command a ship is more'n I can see. Out wid ye, and wake up, and leave me be while I get the dinner in shape.”

SHE bustled Cap'n Vesty out of there in a hurry. He found no words until he was in the lobby, and then he looked around as she stood in the dining-room door, gazing after him.

“There's no law agin' him, is there?' he asked. “I can't blame him for lovin' ye, Kitty achree, and if he's a better man nor me, as he may well be——

She slammed the dining-room door, and if she shed tears behind it, he did not know of it.

When once things begin to slip with a man, as the saying goes, the foul fiend himself helps to push over the cart. So it was with Cap'n Vesty. In no time at all, loans were coming due here and there, and Cap'n Connie it was who always showed up with the paper, and many was the curse laid on the day that Cap'n Vesty brought his friend home to the Beavers. Cap'n Connie was no fool and brought in no law, but he was a mortal shrewd man and drove a hard bargain, and under the up-shooting brow the eye was hard as steel. And he knew as much about every family on the island as the priest himself, for he had listened hard all this time.

There was talk, of course. More than one asked Cap'n Vesty how it was, and there was a hint of driving Cap'n Connie off the island, but Cap'n Vesty only laughed and blamed himself a bit in his careless way, and hushed any suspicion of wrong doing.

Illustration: Cap'n Connie, with a glare, put out a nimble step, for all of his maimed leg

“Why,” he'd say, “it was like this or that—over the cards, maybe, or I had to sell the loan to him and forgot to take it back. Bless ye, there's nothin' wrong! If I had the money loose, ye could have it this minute. I'll tell Cap'n Connie to go easy—ain't he the good friend to me? Sure, sure. Don't worry.”

But finally it got whispered about that Cap'n Connie had old Cap'n Vesty under his thumb and knew of something in the past that could not be told abroad, and was riding him. About this time Cap'n Vesty realized that he owed everybody money, and that folk who lived by the fish had little money to lose, and they facing winter. So he held a grand auction and sold everything that he had in the world, from the farm to the piano; Cap'n Connie bought the farm and all in it, and others bought a bit, and in the end Cap'n Vesty squared off with all the island, though he had little left.

After the sale was over, Father John sought him out and told him of the whisper. At this, Cap'n Vesty broke into a fit of hearty laughter.

“Stop it!” snapped Father John. “Ye big simpleton, where's all the money gone to this summer? Why are ye poor and this man rich?”

“Well, Father,” said Cap'n Vesty, “it's this way and that way—a little at cards, maybe, and a sale of notes.”

“Don't ye lie to me,” said the priest. “He's a shrewd man and has doubled what little money ye gave him; but where's the bulk of it all gone? Out with it! I mean to know.”

CAP'N VESTY bit the end off a cigar, then looked the priest in the eye.

“Well, Father, you're not to breathe a word,” said he, “but it's not lost—divil a bit of it! I'll tell ye, now, where the big lump went to. I heard tell of a fine large building in New York City, an office building that brings in grand rents all the time and no work to do, that was to be bought cheap, the owners of it being hard up. I wrote to a lawyer there and had him look into it, and he said twas the chance of a lifetime, so I bought it and got the deed. Ye may not believe me, but it's the truth I'm tellin' when I say that the rents will bring me in five hundred dollars a month clean profit——

“Aren't they bringing it in, then?“ demanded Father John, with a quick frown.

“No.” Cap'n Vesty rolled the cigar in his mouth. “The lawyer writes me the building is bein' refinished inside and done over, and the rents won't start for maybe a month or two yet. But there's ten thousand dollars tied up in it, Father——

“Where did ye first hear of it?”

“Cap'n Connie mentioned it to me one day, and showed me a picture of the building, and elegant it is! And——

“Where'd ye get the lawyer's name?”

“Sure, didn't Cap'n Connie recommend him? He did that, and a good deed it was.”

“It's a wonder ye've lived sixty year,” said Father John. “Let's see them papers.”

So Cap'n Vesty, mighty proud, got out his deed and the picture of the building and so forth, and when Father John offered to take care of them a while, he was glad of the offer.

“A man must live,” said he, laughing to himself, “and until the rents come in, I'll work on the nets for Willy John. Whist! What a joke it'll be, all the folks thinking I'm an old fool who couldn't take care of his money, and pointing me out workin' for wages, and then the rents'll begin to come in! Father, look at the picture; did ye ever see a finer building than this same? Divil take me if it ain't one of the finest in New York City!”

“That's true enough, and so it is,” said Father John, and tucked away the papers.

So Cap'n Connie had the farm to himself now. Cap'n Vesty moved to the hotel, where he did odd jobs and paid something besides for his keep, and went out in Willy John's boat or helped with the nets in the shed for wages. And nobody could understand why the gay twinkle never left his blue eye, nor the smile his lip, and least of all could Kitty Dunlevy understand it.

BUT finally, one night when the chill was coming on and the first fires were being lighted, and the autumn gales were threatening, Cap'n Connie drove up to the hotel in the Ford car, and went into the kitchen for a bit of talk with Kitty. His coming was not known to Cap'n Vesty, who was busy fetching up some wood from the shed.

The greetings over and the two of them alone in the kitchen, Cap'n Connie lighted his pipe and hitched one knee over the other, and looked at Kitty from under that upturned eyebrow of his. Somehow there was a nasty curl to his lip, and the tone of his voice bit.

“Well, Kitty, what is it to be?” said he. “Will ye marry me or not, lass?”

Kitty Dunlevy's bright eye went over him, and her lips set for a moment.

“First I didn't like ye, Cap'n Connie,” she said slowly. “Then I felt mortal sorry for an old man, and you feeble with years. And then I never told ye of it, but I tried to be like a mother to ye for the sake o' Vesty——

“I'd sooner have ye as a wife for me own sake,” said Cap'n Connie, and cackled a laugh. The tone of it went into her like a knife, and her face flamed red.

“Gallegher's Divil!” said she. “Get out o' here, for I'd not marry the likes of you if ye was the last man on the Beavers. Take it straight, and the rest of it, too—ye ould thievin' divil, ye! Get out before I lose my temper completely and break good dishes on your bald old head!”

She was a sight to see, as she stood in front of him with her eyes flashing and her face red, and her fine white teeth showing between scarlet lips, and her deep bosom heaving with the anger that shook her. But Cap'n Connie only took a paper from his pocket, and the lip drew back from his teeth as he grinned at her.

“Maybe,” said he, “maybe ye'll remember the mortgage that Cap'n Vesty took over? It was made out for three months, and they're up and gone. The mortgage is mine, and by the same token the hotel is mine, though ye may have it for the balance of the summer and welcome. And now what do ye say to bein' Mrs. O'Brien——

Kitty caught up a plate and let him have it for answer, but Cap'n Connie ducked the plate and it smashed the clock on the shelf. He waited for no more, but went out the door in a hurry.

WHEN Cap'n Vesty came into the kitchen to see what was all the noise about, he found Kitty sitting with her head in her arms and tears on her cheeks. He put his arm about her shoulders and she told him of it, and what Cap'n Connie had said, and laid her wet cheek against his shirt front.

“Praise be!“ said he, and patted her hair. “Now ye'll marry me, Kitty achree, and there'll be no more to worry about. Damn the mortgage, lass! I'll say a word to Cap'n Connie, for it's a good felly he is at heart——

Kitty Dunlevy lifted her tear-wet face, with her eyes like stars, and shoved him away.

“Marry you?” said she. “Who said I'd marry you? I'll marry you the day ye wake up, and not a minute before! Ye've let that ould divil rob ye of everything in the world. And it's no fault of yours he ain't married me this day, ye soft-hearted babe! Get out of me sight, you and your divil together—get out!”

Poor Cap'n Vesty got out of the kitchen, all wondering, and came into the lobby where Sevinsky was toasting his shins over the new fire. He stood there with oaths dropping off his tongue, while the hardwood cruiser stared at him in astonishment.

“Soft-hearted, because I treat a man square!” said Cap'n Vesty, with another oath. “I've shipped in packets and iron boats and I've been around the Horn eight times, and I've bullied the hardest crews and the toughest mates ever came out o' Paradise Street or the Mission—and by this and by that, what else am I good for? Not a danged thing! Ashore, it's a fool I am. Unless I have the salt in my face I'm a poor helpless babe. Sevinsky, were ye ever a fool?”

Sevinsky looked up with a solemn nod, for he was no laughing man.

“Many's the time,” said he, “many's the time, cap'n! And the worst blamed fool of all was when I monkeyed with the women-folks. That's why I'm here on Beaver, where the wife can't come after me.”

“Let's the two of us go and see is there a drop o' brandy left,” said Cap'n Vesty, and Sevinsky got up out of his chair, and they went down the corridor together.

THE day before the big wind, Father John went to the head of the island to visit with Neil Gallegher, who was dying that day, so that he did not get his mail. And that night the first gale started in from the west, switching around to the northwest before dawn, and when day came the big wind was starting in, and it was good for three days anyhow. On the Saturday morning an Arnold Line barge put into the harbor for shelter, with word that the channel was lifting itself in a way that would sink an ocean liner, and worse coming if the wind did not shift. But the wind held steady, and toward noon came word by the under-water telephone from Charlevoix that the mail boat would not put out into the teeth of it, for the boat was cranky and could not face forty mile of that gale. And no fish came in that day except a few perch, since nobody could pull nets with the sea that was running outside the harbor.

It was not until late Saturday night that Neil Gallegher died, which meant that he'd be waked on the Monday night, the weather being cool enough for him to keep that long. Father John stayed the night at the farm, and did not come back except in time for early mass Sunday morning, and the wind still howling out of the nor'west like thirty devils.

Cap'n Vesty came to the preaching service, though Kitty was not with him and there were many who did not come, for the wind was bitter cold and few were ready to face it. After church Father John came out, and instead of stopping to chat with this one and that one, he took Cap'n Vesty by the arm.

“I've a word for you,” said he, and by his manner he meant business.

So he did, indeed, for he took Cap'n Vesty into his house and set him down before the fire, and pulled up a chair for himself and took some letters from the table. Cap'n Vesty sat staring at him, for never had he seen the priest so serious and angry-looking.

KEEP your mouth shut till I'm done,” said Father John, with a snap of his teeth. “I wrote to New York about that building of yours, and the answer came yesterday, praise be! The picture that Cap'n Connie showed you was that of a fine building, and the name of it is the Woolworth Building; but that's not the one you bought. You paid your money for an old loft in a far side street that's falling down and worth nothing at all, and brings in no rent, and only the land it stands on has the value of a cent. There's nothing to be done about it. It was Cap'n Connie and not the lawyer who showed you the picture, and it was the lawyer and not Cap'n Connie who bought the property for you. None the less, it was a trick and a man's dirty game to cheat you, and that man was Cap'n Connie. Here's the letter that tells about it, and there's nothing to do but grin and bear it.”

The red face of Cap'n Vesty was red no longer, but a queer whitish color. He read the letter word by word and saw for himself that Father John had spoken the truth. Then he looked up at the priest and just nodded, for his teeth were set hard, and there was a hurt look in his blue eyes.

“The man is a rogue and a rascal,” said the Father. “He's imposed on you from the start. He's robbed you of the big lump, and has thieved all you had here on the island. I hear tell that he sends his money to no bank, but keeps it all in a belt. That's the way of scoundrels, who never know when they must run. Have ye waked up, Vesty? Can ye see now how the sly devil has been workin' you all this while, and you trusting him?”

Cap'n Vesty nodded again. Terrible to see was the change in his face, for age had come upon him in these few minutes, and his skin sagged, and the life was fled from his eye.

“I've feared it,” he said in a dead voice. “Yet I felt sorry for him, and him such a feeble little old felly——

“Feeble, is it? He's no more feeble than you are,” said the Father, with scorn. “He's a wiry, stout little divil, that's what he is! But he's hooked ye——

Cap'n Vesty turned a queer look on him.

“But since that night he fell on the dance floor he's not been the same man, and all my fault, it was! He's coughed o' nights, and——

“Workin' on your sympathies!” spat out Father John angrily. “Now, Vesty, ye can do nought by the law. I'm givin' no advice, but if I was in your shoes I'd make the lad settle up or lose his health sudden. And 'twould not take much to have him run off of the island——

Cap'n Vesty held up his hand. His face was sorrowful, but there was something strong and fine about it that made the priest look twice at him.

“No, no, Father,” said he. “I've been a fool. The man has played me false, and there's no doubt of it; but should I take me fists to him because I've been a fool? Shame on the thought. Look at me, big and brawny as I am, and him a little wizened-up felly wid a limp and a cough o' nights! No, it won't do. I'll take what I've earned, and say no more.”

Father John looked hard at him, and shifted about in his chair, but could not find an answer to that word. So he reached over to the table and took another letter from it.

“My heart's sore for ye, Vesty,” he said slowly. “But what about Kitty Dunlevy?”

Cap'n Vesty lifted his head. “What d'ye mean by that, now?”

“Hasn't the man asked her to marry him?”

“So I've heard,” said Cap'n Vesty, a mortal queer light in his eye.

“But here's a letter from his lawful wife that he left in New York,” said the priest. “I had her found. She's in Charlevoix this minute, for she was to reach there Saturday night, and she'll be over with the mail boat.”

Cap'n Vesty opened his mouth, then shut it quick and hard. Something new came into his face, something that had not been seen there since he came home; he got out of the chair and stood on his two feet, and drew a breath that heaved out his chest like a bellows.

“I'll be goin' now, Father,” said he, and reached out for his hat.

Father John jumped up and laid a hand on the arm of Cap'n Vesty.

“Don't kill him, me lad!“ said he. “Remember the woman's comin' for him——

“Kill him, is it?” Cap'n Vesty's blue eyes narrowed into an icy flame. “By heaven, I'll gut him like ye would a whitefish—but not in the way ye'd think for. Let me by!”

He put the Father out of his way with one hand, and walked from the house.

THERE was a large few in the hotel lobby that morning. Cap'n Connie was there, though not welcome, but he had come to get his dinner. The lighthouse man was there, telling of the wild storm out beyond the harbor and how the rollers were thundering away toward the mainland under the gray wrack of sky. Every lake boat has one or more Beaver lads aboard, and some had come ashore from the boats in the harbor; and old Cap'n O'Grady was over from Garden Island with his two strapping boys. Kitty Dunlevy had just come in to ask them about how they wanted the turkey for dinner, when into the lobby walked Cap'n Vesty.

One and all turned to stare at him. He had walked from the church, and his shirt was open at the neck, and somehow it seemed that all the stoop had gone out of his back; but it was the flash in his eye that made them stare, and the vibrant ring to his voice.

“O'Grady!” He hurled the word out so it deafened them. “Is that your boat at the dock? I want to go to the mainland. What'll ye hire her for?”

OLD Cap'n O'Grady grinned in his red whiskers.

“Ye can have her for nothin',” he said, “because ye'll find no man fool enough to run ye to the mainland in this weather! Is it drunk ye are, Vesty?”

“You're on,” said Cap'n Vesty, and ran his eye over the staring men. “Drunk I am not, but I'm goin' to the mainland. Who'll run the engine for a fifty-dollar note, whilst I take the wheel?”

More than one thought him drunk, and not a lad rose out of his chair, for it was only a crazy man would try to run to the mainland in that sea, especially in a gas boat. But then Sevinsky came out of his room and asked what it was about, and they told him.

“I'll go,” said he, “for the brandy's all gone and I know where to get more on the other side the water, and I need the fifty.”

“Then get to the boat and stow your jaw,” said Cap'n Vesty. “I'll be down wid the passenger in no time. See that the tank's full.”

“Glory be!” piped up Cap'n Connie, with a cackle and a grin. “And where's the fifty to come from? And who's the passenger?”

“It's you that's the answer to both questions,” said Cap'n Vesty, and took a step toward him, with such a blazing fury in his eyes that one or two fell out of his way in a hurry. “You, ye blasted packet rat! What d'ye mean proposin' marriage to Kitty, yonder, knowin' all the while you had a lawful wife in New York City? Eh?”

There was a dead and terrible silence as the meaning of his words sunk into every soul there, and Cap'n Connie no less than the others. He came to his feet, in the corner, his face like a sheet.

“She—she—how come ye to know——” he stammered, and was done for after that minute.

“She's waitin' in Charlevoix for ye now,” said Cap'n Vesty. “I know at last how ye've cheated me out o' me money and tricked me and played me for a fool, you and your lawyer friend in New York! But I'll lay no finger on ye, unless ye make me do so. You're goin' to Charlevoix this minute, willy-nilly, ye danged Port Mahon sojer! And you'll pay the fifty to the engineer, and you'd pay for the boat only I've got the loan of it free. Come, now, or I'll take ye by the neck!”

There was no coming about Cap'n Connie, however. He backed into the corner.

“It's a lie from start to finish!” he sang out, the lip drawing back from his teeth. “I've no wife, and I've not cheated——

Cap'n Vesty walked in on him.

“Must I force ye?” said he, then swung a look at the others, who were moving closer. “Belay!” he said in a cold voice. “Keep out, or I'll do murder on ye! Leave us be!“

Then Cap'n Vesty had proof what a fool he had been, for without warning Cap'n Connie let fly with a one-two that sent him staggering. There was a world of strength in the little devil, and so surprised was Cap'n Vesty that in two seconds he was catching at the air and grunting as the blows drove in. He took a fist on the jaw that would have killed any but a Beaver Gallegher, and went down, and Cap'n Connie slammed the boots to him, while chairs crashed and Kitty Dunlevy shrieked for help.

Then Cap'n Vesty got to his feet, and the two of them mixed it, and in another minute it was all over, for Cap'n Vesty got home with his boot and laid the rascal out. He leaned over, picked up the senseless Cap'n Connie by the collar, and stood there looking around.

“We're off,” he said, and wiped the blood from his mouth.

“Don't be a fool!” spoke up the staring lighthouse keeper. “A boat can't swim yonder, and if it could ye'd never make Charlevoix, wid the waves pilin' up on the jetties.”

“Speak for yourself and foller your own trade,” said Can'n Vesty, “and leave mine to me. If any one interferes, look out! Kitty, stop the hollerin' and wait till I come back.”

So he walked out of the place, dragging Cap'n Connie after him by the collar. Down across the sand he went to the dock where O'Grady's boat lay, and threw Cap'n Connie into the house like a sack of meal, and climbed after him. Two minutes later the boat started out.

It was Sevinsky who told afterward of the crossing. Sevinsky was a fine engineer, no better on the lakes, but if he had not held the last of the brandy under his skin he would not have gone out that day, for it was wild doings.

With everything lashed down tight, Cap'n Vesty stood up forward at the wheel, while Sevinsky stood over the engine. She was a good boat, but once out of the harbor she began to get the roll, and then Cap'n Vesty headed her straight before the seas to Charlevoix. For a while all was easy, since Hog Island reef and Skillagalee bumped off the worst of the combers, and after a bit Cap'n Vesty turned his head, and asked:

How's the passenger?”

“Sound asleep,” said Sevinsky.

Cap'n Vesty began to sing. A wailing song it was and new to Sevinsky, with a jerk to the words as the boat rose to a sea, and no tune at all.

Oh, whisky is the life of man,
Oh, whisky, oh, Johnny!
Oh, whisky is the life of man,
Whisky for the Johnnies!
I'll drink whisky when I can,
Whisky, my Johnny!
Whisky put me in the calaboose——

That was how it started, at least, though Sevinsky said there was more of it that brought a blush to his cheek. And in the middle, Cap'n Vesty broke off.

“Choke her down!” he shouted. There's hell ahead and we're goin' to catch it comin'!”

Pretty soon it began to get bad, and then it got worse, and kept on getting worse all the time, with the seas rolling up behind and the gas boat climbing on them, and then the water going out with a hiss and a roar. There was enough cross-current in the channel to make the boat roll badly, and with every sea Cap'n Vesty had to hold her down hard as she rose up, and then ease off as she tore away with the foam. It was work and no mistake. What made it bad was that the stern wind blew all the exhaust fumes down around Cap'n Vesty as he stood at the forward end of the house, and nigh choked him at times.

They were maybe an hour out when Cap'n Connie woke up. He clawed himself to his feet and glared around, and by the murder in his eye Sevinsky reached for a spanner to tap him one, but just then—roar! A whale of a sea climbed up over the stern and burst in the after doors of the house, and it was only by mercy that the boat was not foundered.

“Close them doors, ye swabs!” yelled Cap'n Vesty, his voice reaching back above the whine of the wind. “Jump to it, both Get a bar nailed acrost 'em——

Sevinsky managed it somehow and made the doors safe, thanking his stars that the engine had not stopped; but Cap'n Connie's nerve was broken in that moment when it seemed that they were gone. He let out a yelp, and then came forward screaming, until Cap'n Vesty half turned to him.

“Ye blasted farmer, I'll show ye who's a seaman!” said Cap'n Vesty, and gave him the boot. Cap'n Connie went down under it, and lay all crouched up after that, with only a whimper out of him now and then. Once in a while Cap'n Vesty would look back at him and laugh, and Sevinsky said it was a laugh that chilled the blood.

Another hour of it, and the seas getting worse all the while, until a thundering big one came bursting aboard and smashed in the doors, bar and all, and sent Cap'n Connie climbing for the roof with a yell in his throat, and Sevinsky was knocked headfirst into the Whether him or the water did it, the engine stopped.

Cap'n Vesty brought down his helm hard and let her come around into the trough. Then he jumped for Cap'n Connie and fetched him a blow that drove him to one side, and caught Sevinsky up and threw water in his face. There was water enough and to spare, and after a minute Sevinsky opened his eyes, with the boat rolling gunnels under.

LET her roll,” said Cap'n Vesty, with a laugh. “She'll not sink that way. It's the twist of a sea tumbling her over the crest that may send her under! Get to them engines, for the worst is ahead of us. Hey, ye sojerin' rogue!” He kicked Cap'n Connie in the ribs. “Up and bale or I'll throw ye out! And leave them starn doors open so's the gas will blow out.”

Cap'n Connie baled, and Sevinsky worked over the engine while the boat rolled, and presently the engine started up and they were off again. Sevinsky was sober by this time, and doing some hard praying to the saints, but Cap'n Vesty began his singing once more as he swung the wheel up and down.

Two hours more, and darkness was gathering, when they came staggering toward the Charlevoix breakwater, half full of water and the pumps choked and Cap'n Connie baling for dear life. Here the water was high and the seas thundering in from the length of the lake, and what with the water and the narrow space between the two jetties, none but a fool tries to make Charlevoix with a heavy sea from up the channel. The coastguards were watching, and people on the hill above, and all the backyards along the breakwater were full of crowds gathering to see the shipwreck.

Cap'n Vesty stood to the helm with a wild laugh and a lilt of song on his lip, and the bright blue eyes of him watching the swirl of white water off the jetties. Now they were up and down again, and then up on a big roller that had come clear from Wisconsin—and driving at it, live or die! A yell went up from the crowds, and another yell, and then the boat staggered and lurched as she scraped the edge of the north jetty and was flung into the channel beyond.

“Collect your fifty off of him, Sevinsky,” said Cap'n Vesty, stirring Cap'n Connie with his foot. 'And do it quick, for there's a lady waitin' to collect more nor that!”

Sevinsky collected, and Cap'n Connie only let out a whimper as he paid over the money.

IT was five days before Cap'n Vesty came home with Sevinsky and the boat, for in Charlevoix it was found that he had three ribs broken, where Cap'n Connie had slammed the boots to him, and a bit of fever came on him from that cause. But come back he did, and a thankful man was old Cap'n O'Grady to see the boat come home safe again.

Father John was among the first down to the dock, and as soon as possible he took Cap'n Vesty by the arm and led him to one side, into Willy John's net shed, and gave him a bit of a squeeze.

“Ye old rascal!“ said he, with a grin. “It's glad I am to see ye safe again, Vesty. What did ye do with him, eh?”

Vesty laughed. “Father, I gave him to his missus,” said he, “and a masterful creature she is! I wish you might ha' seen her. She give him a black eye the first ten minutes she had him back.”

“But did ye get no money back from him?” asked Father John.

“O' course not,” said Vesty, and then looked out the door. “Glory be, if there ain't Kitty——

“Hold on a minute,” said the priest, gripping him back.

Kitty Dunlevy had heard of the boat coming in, and was heading for the dock, with her hair flying in the wind and her eyes like stars. They could hear her voice asking for Cap'n Vesty as she went by.

“I've news for ye,” said Father John. “The man I wrote to about your building in New York City sent me another letter. There's people want to buy it, and bad, to build a big warehouse on the site. They offer ye twelve thousand for it, and that's a fortune here, and ye can get back the farm, not to mention the hotel and all——

Cap'n Vesty looked at the Father with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

“I'm obliged to ye,” he said, “and now, if you're all done, I'll go meet Kitty.”

“Heaven help ye!” said Father John, letting loose of him. “Go!”

And Cap'n Vesty went, with a laugh on his lips.

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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