3682031The Arizona Callahan — Chapter 4H. Bedford-Jones


IN the heavy, dank quiet of the shed where the big nets hung, Hardrock sat smoking his pipe. His brain listened mechanically to the words of Vesty Gallagher; yet other sounds were borne in upon him; the rattle of ice from the wharf, the slam of fish-boxes tossed about, the eternal creaking of the great net-frames as they swung and swung endlessly in the breeze and groaned futile protest.

“By luck I come to town last night for freight, and remained over,” said Vesty, “and by luck I seen you this morning and knew ye for a stranger. I said a word or two last night, when there was talk about your scrap wi' Connie Dunlevy, after the two boys was brought in. Some said you had done it, d'ye see? Nobody knows what's happened out there in the fog and rain, but there's plenty that intend to know. Eleven families o' Bassets there are on the island, and Marty Biddy dead today. Not to mention Owen John, wi' two bullets through him and the fever bad on him, and he'll go over to the Charlevoix hospital on the mailboat. By luck my boy Danny had been writin' me, and I was looking for ye.”

Hardrock nodded and turned to the gnarled man beside him.

“It was more than luck that I met you this morning,” he said quietly. “You don't know just how bad things look for me. Here's what happened.”

He told what had taken place the preceding day, omitting no detail. “They were not close enough for the shotgun to do much damage,” he concluded. “Where those bullets came from, I can't pretend to guess.”

Vesty Gallagher bit his pipestem thoughtfully, watching Hardrock from screwed-up, sharp little eyes.

“You're straight,” he said suddenly. “I'm with ye. So that's settled. Now hark ye here, me lad! Ill have a word wi' the priest, and he'll have a word wi' the boys, and they'll go slow. But if I was you, I'd come down to the sawmill with me and spend a while there.”

Hardrock smiled. “Thanks, Vesty, but I can't do it. Surely there must be some way of telling who shot those two fellows?”

“There's many would ha' liked to do it,” said old Gallagher. “The two of them was a bad lot—them and the Dunlevy boys hung together. Ye'll have trouble there. Connie Dunlevy and Hughie will guess that ye had a hand in the shootin', and they'll go for ye. Better ye come down home with me, lad.”

“Can't. Promised Matt Callahan I'd come back to Hog Island and settle matters with him.” The gray eyes of Hardrock twinkled. “I said I'd put him off my land if he wasn't reasonable, and I'll do it.”

“Glory be! Have ye been fighting with Matt Big Mary? And I hear Hughie's over there—”

Hardreck related a version of his encounter on the island—a version which very tactfully omitted any mention of Nelly Callahan. Old Vesty chuckled and scratched his red whiskers and then chuckled again.

“Praise be, it's fine to hear of some one who's got the guts to stand up to them Callahans!” he exclaimed. “Betwixt 'em, the Callahans and Dunlevys have been runnin' too high a hand and drinkin' too much o' Jimmy Basset's moonshine. What came ye to town for?”

“To find who it was had run me down, and make 'em pay for my motorboat,” said Hardrock. “But now I'll reconsider the program. It wont do to have everybody know what happened, or I'd be—”

“You'd be shot so damned quick ye'd never know what struck!” said Vesty promptly. “Word's been passed around that you're a revenuer, but I've put a stop to that. If Owen John does any talkin' before they take him to Charlevoix, he'll be able to tell what happened, but they say he's bad off.”

“I suppose the sheriff will be over to investigate?”

VESTY sucked at his pipe a moment.

“Maybe,” he said slowly. “And maybe not. Depends on what story's told. This here is Beaver Island, me lad. Them fellys has had scraps with everybody—Injuns, Danes, Israelites and Washin'ton Island men. Last week they had a scrap with some fellys from Cheboygan that was robbin' some nets. A wild bunch, them Cheboygan lads, fishin' on other folks' ground and runnin' whisky in from Canady. What'll ye do now?”

“Go back to Hog Island,” said Hardrock.

“Do it, and if ye have any regard for health, keep the peace with Matt Big Mary! I'll walk up the shore with ye—left your canoe on the north point, ye said? It'll do ye no harm to be seen walkin' with me.”

They left the shed and swung up to the road, and there Vesty hailed a man and halted Hardrock to meet him.

“It's Tom Boyle Gallagher, me own cousin, and his boys run the freight-boat and he runs the store yonder. Hey, Tom! Shake hands with Hardrock Callahan. He's the felly who had the scrap with Connie Dunlevy yesterday mornin'. It's a friend of Danny's he is, and a friend of mine, and he's bought some land on Hog Island from Eddie John Macaulay.”

Tom Gallagher grinned as he met Hardrock's grip. “Glad to meet ye. Another Callahan, eh? Glory be, but the fightin' Callahans are all over the world! I seen ye to the dance the other night. Hear ye knocked Connie clear off'n the dock, eh? Good for him.”

“Sorry I had any trouble,” said Hardrock. “I want to spend the summer up here, and it seems like I got off to a bad start.”

“More like a good start,” and Tom chuckled. “Drop in to the store any time. It's glad to see you I'll be. See ye later, Vesty!”

The two men walked up the road together, meeting not a few folk. To more than one of these Vesty spoke, introducing Hardrock with emphatic cordiality, stopping now for a word or two and again for a bit of talk, so that it was a good hour afterward when they approached the canoe.

Hardrock, who wanted to pick up a trout or whitefish on the way back, showed his trolling line to old Vesty, and had a word of advice as to tackle, and then Vesty gave him a word as to other things.

“Lay low, me lad. When news comes, I'll have Tom Boyle Gallagher's boy bring it to ye—Micky, his name is. There's a few Gallaghers left on the island yet, praise be, and any friend o' Danny's is goin' to have a square deal. Be off with ye now, and good luck.”

Ten minutes later, with the canoe leaning over to the breeze as she drew out, Hardrock was steering north and exchanging a last wave of the hand with Vesty Gallagher. Under the latter's optimistic influence and quick friendship, his stunned depression had quite evaporated. He was himself again, no longer hesitant or doubting, ready for whatever might happen.

“Blamed lucky thing I met him!” he thought, as he let out his trolling line and settled down to steer for home. “And I sure hope that wounded chap will open up and talk before long. Well, by gosh, I feel a heap better than I did! I think I'll drop in on Matt's camp—ought to get there about noon. Going to marry Hughie Dunlevy, is she? Not if I know it! Not, that is, unless she wants to, and I'll gamble she doesn't.”

WITH just the right amount of ballast to hold her head down, the canoe was a marvel for speed, and Hardrock Callahan, who had not spent all his life in Arizona, knew how to handle her. Thus it was not quite noon when he bore up for the north point on Hog Island.

In spite of the big whitefish that came to his line and set his knife to work and brought the gulls wheeling to pick up the offal, Hardrock had plenty of time to reflect on his situation. He was not particularly given to reflection, but just now there was need of it. One man was dead; another was badly wounded; by good fortune, no one knew of their encounter with Hardrock Callahan, but that story was bound to come out. If the wounded man did not recover, and could not give an account of the killing, investigation would probably fasten the blame on Hardrock, from circumstantial evidence. So far suspicion was not directed at him—but it would come.

“These are slow-thinking people, and the law is probably slower to reach up here,” he mused. “So much the worse when the time for action comes! Looks like it's distinctly up to me to land the murderers, as a matter of self-protection; and a fat chance I have of doing it! Since there was no mention of Connie Dunlevy being taken to the hospital, he's probably not so badly hurt as I thought. That gang is against me, sure. Hm! Guess I'll take counsel with the young lady. She's got a level head.”

He held in for the strip of shore before Matt Big Mary's camp, and perceived that the updrawn boat was gone. As his canoe scraped on the sand and he leaped ashore, Nelly Callahan appeared and waved her hand.

“Welcome back! Have you come for more coffee?”

“That and other things,” responded Hardrock cheerfully, holding up the whitefish. “Anybody around?”

“They've all gone to finish pulling stakes and wont be back until late,” said the girl. “Did you have any trouble in town?”

“No. I met Vesty Gallagher, and we had quite a talk. Got any nails around here? If you have, let's get this fish on a slab and we can discuss the weather while it's browning.”

Searching the shore, he presently espied a slab of mill wood, nailed the opened fish to it, spilled plenty of seasoning over the firm white flesh, and got the slab in position beside the fire. Then he sat down and lighted his pipe and looked at Nelly Callahan, who sat on the end of a log and darned a thick stocking; and presently he told her all that he had learned this morning in St. James.

FOR a moment her face flashed white, and in the depths of her widened gaze he read alarm and swift fear and wild surmise. Then she was herself again, cool and steady, her blue eyes searching into him with unconcealed tenseness of interest, and only her breath coming a little swifter to denote the startled heart that was in her.

“It seems impossible!” she murmured. “Oh! And when everyone learns of how you used your shotgun on them—”

“Steady! Nobody knows that except you and Vesty,” said Hardrock. “Who'd believe me? They'd say I had a pistol or rifle and dropped it overboard after shooting the two men. And how do you know I hadn't, Nelly? How do you know I'm not lying?”

She looked at him steadily for a moment, meeting his gaze squarely. Then:

“How did Vesty know it?” she said, and smiled a little. “Don't be silly. Did you see any other boat around, except theirs?”

Hardrock shook his head. “No, but that means nothing. I couldn't see far for the rain, and I was intent on them—they'd been following me, you know. If there's any clue to be gained, it's from you.”

“From me? How?”

“The shots. You said you had heard shooting. Now, I let off both barrels of my shotgun, no more. I did think that I heard shots after that, but my sinking boat was making such a racket—the exhaust pipe was smashed when they ran me down—and I was so infernally busy handling that canoe, that I didn't notice them. You did. How many were there? You'd notice the difference between the bang of my shotgun and the crack of rifles, too.”

The girl nodded, and lifting her eyes, stared out toward the blue mass of Garden Island on the horizon.

“There must have been five or six shots,” she said slowly. “Now I think of it, I believe that two did come sometime earlier—that was what drew my attention. Yes, and the others were different. They sounded more like the deep crash of an automatic pistol than the sharp crack of a rifle. But how can that help you? I couldn't see what happened. I can't swear—”

“You're not expected to!” Hardrock responded, and felt through his pockets for a match. “The thing is, to make sure of what you heard. Somebody else was out there—a third boat—”

He broke off sharply. From his pocket he drew a strange object; then recognition came into his eyes as he stared at it. It was the pennant-shaped canvas he had taken from the boat at the Booth dock.