HARDROCK CALLAHAN passed along the narrow sand-strip that edged the north shore of Hog Island, until he found a slight opening among the trees that suited him. Then he came back to his pulled-up canoe and began to transport his load to the spot selected; the canoe itself he left hidden where it was.
The storm was not clearing off, but was turning and bringing down a new and colder drift of rain and wind from the north. Ax in hand, Hardrock attacked the tangle of dead and living trees that rimmed him in like a wall. For an hour he worked steadily, slowly driving back the growth and clearing the grassy sward that had attracted him; then he dragged the debris to the shore and was rid of it. This done, he sat down in the wet sand, stuffed some of his own tobacco into his pipe, and sighed comfortably.
“What a girl!” he observed. “And she's the same one Danny Gallagher showed me the picture of, too. That's a coincidence. Well, I'd better get a shelter up before I settle down to dream about her. Good thing the motorboat went down instead of my canoe! She's a grade above most of the islanders that I've seen—”
Whether he referred to canoe or girl was not determined.
He set to work methodically getting up the tent, which he now unlashed, and anchored it securely. His. clearing opened on the shore to the north, and the trees fully protected him from the eternal west winds; since he was pitching the tent for all summer, he made a thorough job of it, and this took time. Then, opening up some of his bundles, he produced flannel shirt and corduroys and other garments, and clothed himself in decency. Having already collected some dry wood from the thicket, he now built up a cheerful blaze and watched the wispy smoke whirl away in gray shreds down the wind. The afternoon was waning, and he was considering opening up some grub when a huge figure came into his vista of the shore and Matt Big Mary was striding up to him.
“Greetings!” exclaimed Hardrock cordially. “Come in out of the rain and toast your shins.”
The big man nodded solemnly, sat down beside Hardrock in the tent opening, produced a black pipe and blacker tobacco, and lighted up. He sat for a little in silence, staring over the fire at the gray lake with those deep-set, melancholy eyes of his. At length he removed the pipe from his lips and spoke.
“Hughie tells me ye've bought the timber.”
“Yes. It went with the land, said Eddie John. I've no use for it, except this tall pine right back of here. If you want the rest, you can have it.”
“I don't,” said Matt. “You're none of the island Callahans?”
“No. New York State.”
“So are we, out of County Tyrone. All the same stock.” Matt puffed over that for a bit. “Ye done a bad day's work, fallin' foul of Hughie Dunlevy.”
“That's as may be. Sooner him than you.”
Matt turned and swept Hardrock with his slow gaze. “Why?”
“Because,”—and Hardrock stretched himself out more comfortably,—“because I expect to marry your daughter.”
“I don't like jokes,” said Matt Big Mary, after a moment. “Not that kind.”
“I'm not joking,” said Hardrock coolly. “Danny Gallagher showed me a picture of her, and that's why I came here, partly. Now that I've seen her and talked with her, I know. I'm fair with you. If she's in love with nobody else, and I can win her, I'll do it.”
“Hot head, queer heart,” said Matt, a gathering rumble in his tone.
Hardrock laughed. “I'm safe enough.”
“By herself or by you?”
“No matter. Hughie Dunlevy marries her.”
Storm grew in Matt's eyes, and his big black beard bristled.
“Careful, me lad! The boys wanted to come over and have a talk with ye, but I set down me foot. I want no trouble, without ye force it on me. I'll have no man makin' light talk of my girl, more particular a stranger.”
“It's not light talk, Matt; I mean every word of it,” said Hardrock. “And I'm not a good one to bluff, either. You fellows on the Beavers, Matt, are all clannish, and you all stick together like burrs, and you throw a strong bluff. Why? Because you're all afraid of the big world. Let a better man walk in and whip one or two of you, and things are different. Besides, I have a friend or so if I want to call on 'em, and I'll be no outcast. So think twice, Matt, before you lay down the law.”
Even while. he spoke, Hardrock felt his words fruitless. Matt's mental horizon was too narrowed to comprehend him in the least.
“You take my advice,” said Matt Big Mary after a moment. “Be out of here before tomorry night, me lad. Ye'll find a skiff on the shore down to the bay—”
“Want me to put you off my land, Matt?” said. Hardrock quietly.
The other was so astonished that he turned his head and stared. What he saw in those hard, icy gray eyes held him silent. Hardrock continued:
“You seem to think, Matt, that I'm a boy to obey you. I'm not. I don't intend to put up a 'No Trespass' sign and keep folks off, but I'm not taking orders from you, and I'm not scared worth a damn. If you bring a fight to me, I'll meet you halfway every time. I've tried to be decent with you, because I want no trouble. Now, I have to be in St. James tomorrow morning, and I'll expect you to see that my camp here isn't disturbed while I'm gone; you're square enough to keep your men away from it. Think things over. When I come back, I'll see you. If you've made up your mind to avoid trouble and meet me halfway, I'll be glad. If not, we'll settle things in a hurry. What d'you say to that?”
Matt Big Mary laughed slowly.
“Aye,” said he. “That's fair, Hardrock. But you'll not come back from the island, if what Hughie did be tellin' 'us is so. Connie Dunlevy will be waitin' for you, or his friends.”
“So will Vesty Gallagher.” Hardrock grinned cheerfully. “I'll be back tomorrow night or next day. Anything you want me to fetch with me—mail or grub?”
Matt stared at him a moment, then rose to his feet.
“Damned if I can make ye out,” said he reflectively. “So long. I'll answer that the boys don't touch your camp.”
He strode away and vanished along the shore.
WHEN daylight died, the storm was blown out and the rollers were already going down. Hardrock Callahan, after luxuriously dining on beans and biscuit and hot tea, smoked his pipe and watched the stars, then laid out his blankets and rolled up. He was asleep almost at once.
It was two in the morning when he wakened, as he had set himself to do. A glance at his watch confirmed the hour. He dressed, and went down to the shore. Everything was quiet, save for the wash of waves and the whisper of breeze in the trees overhead. Off to the northwest came the swift, clear flash of the Garden Shoal light, and farther west, the zed flash from Squaw Island light glimmered over the horizon. Nodding, Hardrock returned to his tent, produced an electric torch and for ten minutes pored over an unrolled chart of the island group.
Then, satisfied, he laced up the tent-flap, turned to the shore, and went to where the wide lake-cruising canoe was laid up under the bushes. In ten minutes the light craft was standing out under the breeze, rounding the point and holding south for Beaver Island and St. James.
The dawn was breaking when he drew down toward the long and narrow harbor. Instead of holding for it, however, he went to the right of the unwinking red eye of the lighthouse, came to shore on the point amid the thick trees and half-ruined dwellings there, and drew up the canoe from sight. Hardrock Callahan was learning caution. He set out afoot, and presently came to the road that wound along the bay and was the artery of the straggling row of houses circling the bay-shore for a mile or more and forming the town of St. James.
The sun was rising upon a glorious day when he had passed down the length of the bay to the head, and reached the hotel and the restaurant adjoining. The hotel was not yet alive for the day, but the island itself was astir, and the restaurant was open. Hardrock went in and breakfasted leisurely by the help of Rose McCafferty, who was waitress, cook and proprietor. Finding himself taken for an early tourist from the hotel out for the morning's fishing, he let it go at that.
“Hear any more about the boys who were shot up?” he inquired casually, in the course of the meal. The response stupefied him.
“Glory be, and what more is there to hear, except the name o' the scoundrel that done it? Poor Marty Biddy Basset—a grand boy he was, and only yesterday morning he was settin' here before me! And Owen John will maybe get well, but the fever's on him and it's no talkin' he'll do this long while. The doctor at the hotel is wid him this blessed minute.”
“Eh?” Hardrock stared at her. “One of them's dead, you say? I didn't know that—”
“Wasn't they picked up by the Danes and brought in last night, and poor Marty wid a bullet through him, and two through Owen, and the both of 'em all peppered wid birdshot as well, and the boat ruined wid bullets? There she lays down to the Booth dock this minute—”
Hardrock laid a coin on the counter and went out.
He stood staring down at the line of fish-sheds and wharves across the road, feeling numb and unable to believe what he had heard. Dead! Yet he had certainly used no bullets; he had neither rifle nor pistol. Mechanically he crossed the road and walked through the soft, deep sand to the fish-company's wharf. Red-haired Joe Boyle had just opened up the shed and was getting in some box-parts to knock together; he flung Hardrock a casual nod as the latter approached, and went on about his business.
The boat was not far to seek. She lay on the north side of the dock, and Hardrock stood gazing down at her. That she was the same which had run him down, he saw at a glance; not many of these boats were open craft; nearly all having a boxlike shelter for engines and lifters and men.
Across her weathered stern-sheets was a pool of dried, blackened blood, and the thwart by the engine carried another grim reminder. Fear clamped upon Hardrock—fear lest he be blamed for this affair. It seemed only too probable. Whoever had done the murder, too, must have done it shortly after he himself had peppered the two men with his shotgun. The swift impulse seized on him to run while he could.
Instead of running, however, he leaned over and jumped down into the boat. Up forward was a tangle of ropes and lines and life-belts, and a colored object there caught his notice. He picked it up. It was a small pennant-shaped bit of canvas, painted half white, half black, attached to a stick that had broken short off. Moved by some instinct, certainly by no obvious reason, he pocketed it and climbed back to the wharf.
“Morning,” said a voice, and he looked up to see a gnarled, red-whiskered man surveying him with an air of appraisal. “Your name aint Callahan, by any chance?”
“Callahan it is. Otherwise, Hardrock.”
“Good. I been lookin' for ye,” said the other. “I'm Vesty Gallagher, Danny's dad. Let's you and me go somewheres, and go quick. Come on over to Dunlevy's shed. Good thing I seen ye, Hardrock—blamed good thing! Come on.”