THE boats went out Monday morning, went out early. They went out from the St. James harbor and from the scattered holdings on the other islands, boats of Indians and white men, out to the fishing grounds where lacy gill-nets and hidden trap-nets and long bloater lines and other legal and illegal methods of obtaining the finny prey were put into effect. Boats bobbed here and there against the horizon of island or sea or reef, and engines whirred as the lifters brought the nets aboard, while trout and whitefish and perch went tumbling down into the tubs. There was heavy work to be done, since the fish must be all cleaned and boxed and in to St. James to make that afternoon's mailboat.
All that morning Hardrock's canoe bobbed here and there off the end of Hog Island, with a drag out from bow and stern, countering back and forth. It was too shallow hereabout for the big fish, and the waters looked all deserted, with only a sparkling flash of gulls off the blue line that marked the north end of Garden to show that a boat was working there beneath the horizon.
Back and forth they went, and found nothing, though they searched hard enough for any sign of the black ropes that might mark a trap. Nothing came near them on the water, excepting a covey of young ducks that bore down and then wheeled and went flashing away through the waves in a hurry. With noon, they returned to camp, where the Sheriff's launch was drawn safely out of sight among the bushes down the shore, and lunched leisurely, and then returned again to the search.
It was nearly three o'clock when at last they found the trap, and then only by accident, for one of the drags picked up the mooring line, and Hardrock hauled the canoe along this until the dim mass of the trap itself was under the canoe. Fulsom came to his assistance, since it was no light task to haul in the heavy lines without tipping the canoe, and together they got it to the surface. They could see perch in it, and big bullheads from the mud bottom, and one lordly yellow sunfish, but no whisky.
“Hold on!” exclaimed Fulsom, who knew more about traps than did Hardrock. “Hold her till I get a grip on that mooring-line! Now let go, and catch hold.”
Now they tugged at the line, and bit by bit worked loose the anchor down below, and after a time got it on the up-heave. Hardrock was leaning far over on the line, depending on Sheriff Fulsom to balance the canoe, and giving his entire attention to the rope below him. This came heaving up soggily from the depths, and presently disclosed another line knotted around it and hanging straight down.
“Thought so!” came the exultant voice of Fulsom. “Haul in on the short line, now—”
IN another moment the end of this came into sight, and showed a firmly lashed case of liquor. Hardrock glanced up over his shoulder.
“Want it aboard?”
“If we can get it, yes. No telling how many more cases there are, but we'll have to leave 'em for the present. We'll see what this is—make sure of it. Looks to me like you needn't worry about that murder charge any more. Better move lively, too. Looks like a boat is heading this way from Beaver. Left my binoculars in camp, so I can't tell much.”
Hardrock could not pause to look—he got the box in under the canoe, then came the ticklish matter of swinging it aboard. This was finally accomplished, though at imminent danger of capsizing the frail craft; then he straightened up for a look at the approaching boat. It was still half a mile distant, and bearing up between the islands as though heading for them.
“Better get in to shore,” said Fulsom. “I aint anxious to be recognized around here until it's necessary, the way things are now. Looks like we got some Canadian Club here, all right—we'll open her up and make sure. Set that extry paddle in the trap to mark her before we go.”
Hardrock nodded and made fast the paddle so that it floated on the line from which the whisky-case had been cut, then he headed the canoe for the point and pushed her hard. Whether that boat was heading for them or not, he meant to take no chances.
In ten minutes he was cutting through the shallows inside the point and was out of sight of the boat. When they came to camp, they speedily lifted the canoe ashore and in among the trees. Then Fulsom, obtaining Hardrock Callahan's woods hatchet, began to pry at the lid of the whisky-case.
“Aren't you tampering with evidence?” said Hardrock, chuckling.
“Who, me? I aint no prohibition officer,” returned the Sheriff dryly. “No sir, I never voted for no prohibition, but I aim to do my duty. First thing is to find out if this stuff is whisky or not. Can't tell by the box, can't tell by the label—”
“The only way is to taste it, eh?” laughed Hardrock. “All right, I'm with you, and will give expert testimony. Go to it! We can't afford to make any mistakes; that's sure.”
The case opened, Fulsom produced a bottle, unhurt by its immersion, and attacked the cork. When this was out, he handed the bottle to his nominal prisoner.
“Let's have your verdict, Hardrock!”
The latter tasted the contents, and grimaced. “It's the stuff,” he returned, handing back the bottle. The Sheriff promptly tilted it, and held it tilted until his breath was gone. Then, gasping, he lowered it, and replaced the cork.
“Gosh, that's good!” he observed. “Wisht I could keep the whole bottle.”
“Nope.” He slid it back into the case. “It could sort of ease my conscience by havin' an excuse for one drink to make certain what the stuff was. And I sure made that drink a good one! But any more'd be stealin' evidence, which I don't aim to do. S'pose you slip out to the shore and keep an eye on that there boat. Maybe she's the one we're lookin' for. I'll lay up out o' sight till I see who it is.”
SMILING to himself at the odd conceit of the Sheriff, whose regretful devotion to duty was indubitably sincere, Hardrock left the cover of the trees and returned to his clearing. He was just in time to see the launch which they had observed come circling around the point and head in. To his astonishment, he saw the figure of Nelly Callahan standing in the bow, while another figure aft was tending the engine.
The girl waved to him eagerly, while her companion, a young fellow no more than a boy, shut off the engine and let the boat run in until her nose touched the sand. By the flush of excitement in the girl's face, Hardrock guessed that she carried news of some kind. She jumped ashore, then turned and waved her hand at the boy.
“Hardrock, this is Tom Boyle Gallagher's boy Micky—Vesty Gallagher was sending him over to find you, so I came along to bring the message myself. I knew more about it than Vesty did, anyway, because I heard Hughie Dunlevy talking to Father last night—”
“All right,” cut in Hardrock. “Wait just a minute, will you? Come ashore, Micky. Got any gasoline aboard?”
“Ten gallon in the tank still,” said the boy, grinning.
“Know anything about engines?”
“He knows all about 'em,” broke in the girl. “Why?”
“I have a launch down the shore that I'd like to have him look over. She's down by that clump of sumach, Micky, drawn up. See if you can find the trouble, will you? We may have to put her into the water.”
“Sure,” and Micky started off. Hardrock turned to the girl, smiling.
“Excuse me for the interruption, but I had a bit of news too, and didn't want him to overhear. Now come and sit down and tell me what's on your mind.”
They sat down together on a fallen log at the edge of the clearing, and Hardrock got his pipe alight.
“Two things,” said the girl, “or maybe three,” and she laughed. “First, Hughie and some of his friends are coming over here tonight. I heard him tell Father they meant to drive you away, and send you back to Arizona.”
Hardrock, thinking of the Sheriff among the trees, broke into a hearty laugh.
“Go on,” he said after a minute. “Go on! What next?”
“Isn't that enough? Vesty got wind of it, and sent Micky off to warn you. There's no telling what they'll do, really—and it's nothing to laugh about!”
“It will be, I promise you,” and Hardrock chuckled. “Not for them to laugh about, though. Don't mention it to anyone, for he doesn't want it known—but Sheriff Fulsom is over there in the trees now. It's his launch that is down the shore. I picked him up last night—he was drifting up the channel, disabled and out of gas. He and I are working on this business, and we've already proved my ideas right by finding that fish-trap and a case of whisky with it. There are other cases at the same spot, probably.”
She stared at him, wide-eyed. “Oh, good!” she exclaimed.
“And I don't forget that I owe the tip to you, either,” he went on. “Well, what next?”
“Hughie thinks that you did the shooting, but he isn't sure. He told Father that a strange launch had been seen around here—a green boat with a red stripe running around the house. A fishboat. I thought right away that it might be the one—”
“Good for you, Nelly Callahan! I'll bet a dollar she's the one we're looking for. Any further news from the chap who went over to the hospital?”
“He's still between life and death, they said.”
“Looks bad. Well, what else is on your mind?”
She looked down at the sand, stirred a branch of ground-cedar with her foot, colored faintly. Then her eyes, direct and searching, lifted suddenly to meet his gaze.
Hardrock frowned. “Something you don't want to tell me, you mean?”
“Yes. Please don't ask.”
FOR a moment Hardrock looked into the troubled depths of her eyes, and the answer came to him. He remembered his talk with her father; he could make a shrewd guess at about what that sort of a man would do and say to the girl.
“All right, I wont,” he said abruptly. “You remember what we were talking about when the boat came along and you had to jump in and go? About Arizona, and you, and Danny's picture of you. That's why I came up here to the Beavers, Nelly. Now let's not have any discussion of the question. I don't want to know what your father said, or how he may have reported what I said to him. The facts are that I came here because I had seen your picture, and now that I've met you, I'm going to stay here for a while. I told your father so, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Here's Micky coming back, so let's drop the subject until a better time. I'll be taking you to the dance Thursday night, as the boys say. What's the good word, Micky?”
The grease-smeared lad grinned widely.
“Ye can't run an engine without a spark, can ye? Sure, she's all right—I've got some extry batteries here and can fix her up in no time.”
“But that wont fix the leaky gas tank.” Hardrock looked at the boy's boat—an open launch of no great size. “See here, Micky! Could you run off some gas into that big tin can aboard your boat, and siphon that into the carburetor, and run my launch into the harbor? If you can, there's a ten-dollar bill for you. Leave your boat here and I'll rent it until you can get my tank soldered up.”
“You bet!” exclaimed the youth eagerly. “Half an hour and I'll have her in shape. You going back with me, Nelly?”
“Yes, and hurry up,” said the girl. “We don't want to be out all day and night.”
Between them, Hardrock and Micky got the Sheriff's launch back into the water, and the boy fell to work. There was no occasion to construct a siphoning arrangement, for he discovered that the leak lay in the piping connections, and stopped it temporarily with some soap. When he had run five gallons of gasoline into the tank and turned over the engine, it functioned perfectly.
“Hop in, Nelly!” he sang out. “We'll get back 'fore dark.”
“Thank you for coming over, dear girl,” said Hardrock, as he gave Nelly a hand and helped her into the boat. “If I don't come around before then, I'll see you Thursday night. Good-by, and good luck!”
“Good-by,” she answered quietly. Then, as the boat circled out from shore, he saw her turn a laughing face, and lift her fingers to her lips, blowing him a kiss. For a moment he stood astounded, then a laugh broke from him, and a long shout.
“I may not wait until Thursday—after that!” he called, and she waved her hand in farewell. Then the launch was drawing around for the point, and passed from sight.
Sheriff Fulsom appeared from the bushes, and he regarded Hardrock with twinkling eyes.
“Gosh, ye look right happy over something!” he commented dryly. “Say, this was a good job ye done, too—got us a launch all shipshape! They'll recognize my launch over to St. James, but no matter. Nobody'll see it until tomorrow anyhow.”
“You heard what she told me?” demanded Hardrock. The Sheriff nodded.
“Yep. I don't know that boat, but no matter. She's our meat, I reckon, if shell only come and pick up that shipment o' case goods! But what about them fellows coming over here tonight?” His shrewd gaze inspected Hardrock gayly. “Looks to me like you and Dunlevy are bound to fight it out, young fellow!”
Hardrock chuckled. “We should worry about what happens tonight. I'm your prisoner and if you don't protect me— Hello! Sheriff, where are your binoculars? Get 'em!”
“Gone with my launch, durn you! Why? What you lookin' at?”
Hardrock, who was staring out to the northeast, drew back from the shore.
“Looks to me like our boat—see her? Green, sure enough; can't tell about the red stripe. Get back out of sight, Fulsom. Here—help run this launch up a little first! Move sharp. They mustn't suspect anyone is here. Can you make her out?”
“Yep. That's her,” affirmed Fulsom confidently. “Go get your shotgun, Hardrock.”