Part 2 out of 2
rifle. The men who had rowed ashore were shooting at us. At the
next heave a second bullet went zipping past, perilously near.
Charley took a turn around a pin and sat down. There were no more
shots. But as soon as he began to heave in, the shooting
"That settles it," he said, flinging the end of the net overboard.
"You fellows want it worse than we do, and you can have it."
We rowed over toward the next net, for Charley was intent on
finding out whether or not we were face to face with an organized
defiance. As we approached, the two fishermen proceeded to cast
off from their net and row ashore, while the first two rowed back
and made fast to the net we had abandoned. And at the second net
we were greeted by rifle shots till we desisted and went on to the
third, where the manoeuvre was again repeated.
Then we gave it up, completely routed, and hoisted sail and started
on the long windward beat back to Benicia. A number of Sundays
went by, on each of which the law was persistently violated. Yet,
short of an armed force of soldiers, we could do nothing. The
fishermen had hit upon a new idea and were using it for all it was
worth, while there seemed no way by which we could get the better
About this time Neil Partington happened along from the Lower Bay,
where he had been for a number of weeks. With him was Nicholas,
the Greek boy who had helped us in our raid on the oyster pirates,
and the pair of them took a hand. We made our arrangements
carefully. It was planned that while Charley and I tackled the
nets, they were to be hidden ashore so as to ambush the fishermen
who landed to shoot at us.
It was a pretty plan. Even Charley said it was. But we reckoned
not half so well as the Greeks. They forestalled us by ambushing
Neil and Nicholas and taking them prisoners, while, as of old,
bullets whistled about our ears when Charley and I attempted to
take possession of the nets. When we were again beaten off, Neil
Partington and Nicholas were released. They were rather shamefaced
when they put in an appearance, and Charley chaffed them
unmercifully. But Neil chaffed back, demanding to know why
Charley's imagination had not long since overcome the difficulty.
"Just you wait; the idea'll come all right," Charley promised.
"Most probably," Neil agreed. "But I'm afraid the salmon will be
exterminated first, and then there will be no need for it when it
Neil Partington, highly disgusted with his adventure, departed for
the Lower Bay, taking Nicholas with him, and Charley and I were
left to our own resources. This meant that the Sunday fishing
would be left to itself, too, until such time as Charley's idea
happened along. I puzzled my head a good deal to find out some way
of checkmating the Greeks, as also did Charley, and we broached a
thousand expedients which on discussion proved worthless.
The fishermen, on the other hand, were in high feather, and their
boasts went up and down the river to add to our discomfiture.
Among all classes of them we became aware of a growing
insubordination. We were beaten, and they were losing respect for
us. With the loss of respect, contempt began to arise. Charley
began to be spoken of as the "olda woman," and I received my rating
as the "pee-wee kid." The situation was fast becoming unbearable,
and we knew that we should have to deliver a stunning stroke at the
Greeks in order to regain the old-time respect in which we had
Then one morning the idea came. We were down on Steamboat Wharf,
where the river steamers made their landings, and where we found a
group of amused long-shoremen and loafers listening to the hard-
luck tale of a sleepy-eyed young fellow in long sea-boots. He was
a sort of amateur fisherman, he said, fishing for the local market
of Berkeley. Now Berkeley was on the Lower Bay, thirty miles away.
On the previous night, he said, he had set his net and dozed off to
sleep in the bottom of the boat.
The next he knew it was morning, and he opened his eyes to find his
boat rubbing softly against the piles of Steamboat Wharf at
Benicia. Also he saw the river steamer Apache lying ahead of him,
and a couple of deck-hands disentangling the shreds of his net from
the paddle-wheel. In short, after he had gone to sleep, his
fisherman's riding light had gone out, and the Apache had run over
his net. Though torn pretty well to pieces, the net in some way
still remained foul, and he had had a thirty-mile tow out of his
Charley nudged me with his elbow. I grasped his thought on the
instant, but objected:
"We can't charter a steamboat."
"Don't intend to," he rejoined. "But let's run over to Turner's
Shipyard. I've something in my mind there that may be of use to
And over we went to the shipyard, where Charley led the way to the
Mary Rebecca, lying hauled out on the ways, where she was being
cleaned and overhauled. She was a scow-schooner we both knew well,
carrying a cargo of one hundred and forty tons and a spread of
canvas greater than other schooner on the bay.
"How d'ye do, Ole," Charley greeted a big blue-shirted Swede who
was greasing the jaws of the main gaff with a piece of pork rind.
Ole grunted, puffed away at his pipe, and went on greasing. The
captain of a bay schooner is supposed to work with his hands just
as well as the men.
Ole Ericsen verified Charley's conjecture that the Mary Rebecca, as
soon as launched, would run up the San Joaquin River nearly to
Stockton for a load of wheat. Then Charley made his proposition,
and Ole Ericsen shook his head.
"Just a hook, one good-sized hook," Charley pleaded.
"No, Ay tank not," said Ole Ericsen. "Der Mary Rebecca yust hang
up on efery mud-bank with that hook. Ay don't want to lose der
Mary Rebecca. She's all Ay got."
"No, no," Charley hurried to explain. "We can put the end of the
hook through the bottom from the outside, and fasten it on the
inside with a nut. After it's done its work, why, all we have to
do is to go down into the hold, unscrew the nut, and out drops the
hook. Then drive a wooden peg into the hole, and the Mary Rebecca
will be all right again."
Ole Ericsen was obstinate for a long time; but in the end, after we
had had dinner with him, he was brought round to consent.
"Ay do it, by Yupiter!" he said, striking one huge fist into the
palm of the other hand. "But yust hurry you up wid der hook. Der
Mary Rebecca slides into der water to-night."
It was Saturday, and Charley had need to hurry. We headed for the
shipyard blacksmith shop, where, under Charley's directions, a most
generously curved book of heavy steel was made. Back we hastened
to the Mary Rebecca. Aft of the great centre-board case, through
what was properly her keel, a hole was bored. The end of the hook
was inserted from the outside, and Charley, on the inside, screwed
the nut on tightly. As it stood complete, the hook projected over
a foot beneath the bottom of the schooner. Its curve was something
like the curve of a sickle, but deeper.
In the late afternoon the Mary Rebecca was launched, and
preparations were finished for the start up-river next morning.
Charley and Ole intently studied the evening sky for signs of wind,
for without a good breeze our project was doomed to failure. They
agreed that there were all the signs of a stiff westerly wind--not
the ordinary afternoon sea-breeze, but a half-gale, which even then
was springing up.
Next morning found their predictions verified. The sun was shining
brightly, but something more than a half-gale was shrieking up the
Carquinez Straits, and the Mary Rebecca got under way with two
reefs in her mainsail and one in her foresail. We found it quite
rough in the Straits and in Suisun Bay; but as the water grew more
land-locked it became calm, though without let-up in the wind.
Off Ship Island Light the reefs were shaken out, and at Charley's
suggestion a big fisherman's staysail was made all ready for
hoisting, and the maintopsail, bunched into a cap at the masthead,
was overhauled so that it could be set on an instant's notice.
We were tearing along, wing-and-wing, before the wind, foresail to
starboard and mainsail to port, as we came upon the salmon fleet.
There they were, boats and nets, as on that first Sunday when they
had bested us, strung out evenly over the river as far as we could
see. A narrow space on the right-hand side of the channel was left
clear for steamboats, but the rest of the river was covered with
the wide-stretching nets. The narrow space was our logical course,
but Charley, at the wheel, steered the Mary Rebecca straight for
the nets. This did not cause any alarm among the fishermen,
because up-river sailing craft are always provided with "shoes" on
the ends of their keels, which permit them to slip over the nets
without fouling them.
"Now she takes it!" Charley cried, as we dashed across the middle
of a line of floats which marked a net. At one end of this line
was a small barrel buoy, at the other the two fishermen in their
boat. Buoy and boat at once began to draw together, and the
fishermen to cry out, as they were jerked after us. A couple of
minutes later we hooked a second net, and then a third, and in this
fashion we tore straight up through the centre of the fleet.
The consternation we spread among the fishermen was tremendous. As
fast as we hooked a net the two ends of it, buoy and boat, came
together as they dragged out astern; and so many buoys and boats,
coming together at such breakneck speed, kept the fishermen on the
jump to avoid smashing into one another. Also, they shouted at us
like mad to heave to into the wind, for they took it as some
drunken prank on the part of scow-sailors, little dreaming that we
were the fish patrol.
The drag of a single net is very heavy, and Charley and Ole Ericsen
decided that even in such a wind ten nets were all the Mary Rebecca
could take along with her. So when we had hooked ten nets, with
ten boats containing twenty men streaming along behind us, we
veered to the left out of the fleet and headed toward Collinsville.
We were all jubilant. Charley was handling the wheel as though he
were steering the winning yacht home in a race. The two sailors
who made up the crew of the Mary Rebecca, were grinning and joking.
Ole Ericsen was rubbing his huge hands in child-like glee.
"Ay tank you fish patrol fallers never ban so lucky as when you
sail with Ole Ericsen," he was saying, when a rifle cracked sharply
astern, and a bullet gouged along the newly painted cabin, glanced
on a nail, and sang shrilly onward into space.
This was too much for Ole Ericsen. At sight of his beloved
paintwork thus defaced, he jumped up and shook his fist at the
fishermen; but a second bullet smashed into the cabin not six
inches from his head, and he dropped down to the deck under cover
of the rail.
All the fishermen had rifles, and they now opened a general
fusillade. We were all driven to cover--even Charley, who was
compelled to desert the wheel. Had it not been for the heavy drag
of the nets, we would inevitably have broached to at the mercy of
the enraged fishermen. But the nets, fastened to the bottom of the
Mary Rebecca well aft, held her stern into the wind, and she
continued to plough on, though somewhat erratically.
Charley, lying on the deck, could just manage to reach the lower
spokes of the wheel; but while he could steer after a fashion, it
was very awkward. Ole Ericsen bethought himself of a large piece
of sheet steel in the empty hold.
It was in fact a plate from the side of the New Jersey, a steamer
which had recently been wrecked outside the Golden Gate, and in the
salving of which the Mary Rebecca had taken part.
Crawling carefully along the deck, the two sailors, Ole, and myself
got the heavy plate on deck and aft, where we reared it as a shield
between the wheel and the fishermen. The bullets whanged and
banged against it till it rang like a bull's-eye, but Charley
grinned in its shelter, and coolly went on steering.
So we raced along, behind us a howling, screaming bedlam of
wrathful Greeks, Collinsville ahead, and bullets spat-spatting all
"Ole," Charley said in a faint voice, "I don't know what we're
going to do."
Ole Ericsen, lying on his back close to the rail and grinning
upward at the sky, turned over on his side and looked at him. "Ay
tank we go into Collinsville yust der same," he said.
"But we can't stop," Charley groaned. "I never thought of it, but
we can't stop."
A look of consternation slowly overspread Ole Ericsen's broad face.
It was only too true. We had a hornet's nest on our hands, and to
stop at Collinsville would be to have it about our ears.
"Every man Jack of them has a gun," one of the sailors remarked
"Yes, and a knife, too," the other sailor added.
It was Ole Ericsen's turn to groan. "What for a Svaidish faller
like me monkey with none of my biziness, I don't know," he
A bullet glanced on the stern and sang off to starboard like a
spiteful bee. "There's nothing to do but plump the Mary Rebecca
ashore and run for it," was the verdict of the first cheerful
"And leaf der Mary Rebecca?" Ole demanded, with unspeakable horror
in his voice.
"Not unless you want to," was the response. "But I don't want to
be within a thousand miles of her when those fellers come aboard"--
indicating the bedlam of excited Greeks towing behind.
We were right in at Collinsville then, and went foaming by within
biscuit-toss of the wharf.
"I only hope the wind holds out," Charley said, stealing a glance
at our prisoners.
"What of der wind?" Ole demanded disconsolately. "Der river will
not hold out, and then . . . and then . . ."
"It's head for tall timber, and the Greeks take the hindermost,"
adjudged the cheerful sailor, while Ole was stuttering over what
would happen when we came to the end of the river.
We had now reached a dividing of the ways. To the left was the
mouth of the Sacramento River, to the right the mouth of the San
Joaquin. The cheerful sailor crept forward and jibed over the
foresail as Charley put the helm to starboard and we swerved to the
right into the San Joaquin. The wind, from which we had been
running away on an even keel, now caught us on our beam, and the
Mary Rebecca was pressed down on her port side as if she were about
Still we dashed on, and still the fishermen dashed on behind. The
value of their nets was greater than the fines they would have to
pay for violating the fish laws; so to cast off from their nets and
escape, which they could easily do, would profit them nothing.
Further, they remained by their nets instinctively, as a sailor
remains by his ship. And still further, the desire for vengeance
was roused, and we could depend upon it that they would follow us
to the ends of the earth, if we undertook to tow them that far.
The rifle-firing had ceased, and we looked astern to see what our
prisoners were doing. The boats were strung along at unequal
distances apart, and we saw the four nearest ones bunching
together. This was done by the boat ahead trailing a small rope
astern to the one behind. When this was caught, they would cast
off from their net and heave in on the line till they were brought
up to the boat in front. So great was the speed at which we were
travelling, however, that this was very slow work. Sometimes the
men would strain to their utmost and fail to get in an inch of the
rope; at other times they came ahead more rapidly.
When the four boats were near enough together for a man to pass
from one to another, one Greek from each of three got into the
nearest boat to us, taking his rifle with him. This made five in
the foremost boat, and it was plain that their intention was to
board us. This they undertook to do, by main strength and sweat,
running hand over hand the float-line of a net. And though it was
slow, and they stopped frequently to rest, they gradually drew
Charley smiled at their efforts, and said, "Give her the topsail,
The cap at the mainmast head was broken out, and sheet and downhaul
pulled flat, amid a scattering rifle fire from the boats; and the
Mary Rebecca lay over and sprang ahead faster than ever.
But the Greeks were undaunted. Unable, at the increased speed, to
draw themselves nearer by means of their hands, they rigged from
the blocks of their boat sail what sailors call a "watch-tackle."
One of them, held by the legs by his mates, would lean far over the
bow and make the tackle fast to the float-line. Then they would
heave in on the tackle till the blocks were together, when the
manoeuvre would be repeated.
"Have to give her the staysail," Charley said.
Ole Ericsen looked at the straining Mary Rebecca and shook his
head. "It will take der masts out of her," he said.
"And we'll be taken out of her if you don't," Charley replied.
Ole shot an anxious glance at his masts, another at the boat load
of armed Greeks, and consented.
The five men were in the bow of the boat--a bad place when a craft
is towing. I was watching the behavior of their boat as the great
fisherman's staysail, far, far larger than the top-sail and used
only in light breezes, was broken out. As the Mary Rebecca lurched
forward with a tremendous jerk, the nose of the boat ducked down
into the water, and the men tumbled over one another in a wild rush
into the stern to save the boat from being dragged sheer under
"That settles them!" Charley remarked, though he was anxiously
studying the behavior of the Mary Rebecca, which was being driven
under far more canvas than she was rightly able to carry.
"Next stop is Antioch!" announced the cheerful sailor, after the
manner of a railway conductor. "And next comes Merryweather!"
"Come here, quick," Charley said to me.
I crawled across the deck and stood upright beside him in the
shelter of the sheet steel.
"Feel in my inside pocket," he commanded, "and get my notebook.
That's right. Tear out a blank page and write what I tell you."
And this is what I wrote:
Telephone to Merryweather, to the sheriff, the constable, or the
judge. Tell them we are coming and to turn out the town. Arm
everybody. Have them down on the wharf to meet us or we are gone
"Now make it good and fast to that marlin-spike, and stand by to
toss it ashore."
I did as he directed. By then we were close to Antioch. The wind
was shouting through our rigging, the Mary Rebecca was half over on
her side and rushing ahead like an ocean greyhound. The seafaring
folk of Antioch had seen us breaking out topsail and staysail, a
most reckless performance in such weather, and had hurried to the
wharf-ends in little groups to find out what was the matter.
Straight down the water front we boomed, Charley edging in till a
man could almost leap ashore. When he gave the signal I tossed the
marlinspike. It struck the planking of the wharf a resounding
smash, bounced along fifteen or twenty feet, and was pounced upon
by the amazed onlookers.
It all happened in a flash, for the next minute Antioch was behind
and we were heeling it up the San Joaquin toward Merryweather, six
miles away. The river straightened out here into its general
easterly course, and we squared away before the wind, wing-and-wing
once more, the foresail bellying out to starboard.
Ole Ericsen seemed sunk into a state of stolid despair. Charley
and the two sailors were looking hopeful, as they had good reason
to be. Merryweather was a coal-mining town, and, it being Sunday,
it was reasonable to expect the men to be in town. Further, the
coal-miners had never lost any love for the Greek fishermen, and
were pretty certain to render us hearty assistance.
We strained our eyes for a glimpse of the town, and the first sight
we caught of it gave us immense relief. The wharves were black
with men. As we came closer, we could see them still arriving,
stringing down the main street, guns in their hands and on the run.
Charley glanced astern at the fishermen with a look of ownership in
his eye which till then had been missing. The Greeks were plainly
overawed by the display of armed strength and were putting their
own rifles away.
We took in topsail and staysail, dropped the main peak, and as we
got abreast of the principal wharf jibed the mainsail. The Mary
Rebecca shot around into the wind, the captive fishermen describing
a great arc behind her, and forged ahead till she lost way, when
lines we're flung ashore and she was made fast. This was
accomplished under a hurricane of cheers from the delighted miners.
Ole Ericsen heaved a great sigh. "Ay never tank Ay see my wife
never again," he confessed.
"Why, we were never in any danger," said Charley.
Ole looked at him incredulously.
"Sure, I mean it," Charley went on. "All we had to do, any time,
was to let go our end--as I am going to do now, so that those
Greeks can untangle their nets."
He went below with a monkey-wrench, unscrewed the nut, and let the
hook drop off. When the Greeks had hauled their nets into their
boats and made everything shipshape, a posse of citizens took them
off our hands and led them away to jail.
"Ay tank Ay ban a great big fool," said Ole Ericsen. But he
changed his mind when the admiring townspeople crowded aboard to
shake hands with him, and a couple of enterprising newspaper men
took photographs of the Mary Rebecca and her captain.
It must not be thought, from what I have told of the Greek
fishermen, that they were altogether bad. Far from it. But they
were rough men, gathered together in isolated communities and
fighting with the elements for a livelihood. They lived far away
from the law and its workings, did not understand it, and thought
it tyranny. Especially did the fish laws seem tyrannical. And
because of this, they looked upon the men of the fish patrol as
their natural enemies.
We menaced their lives, or their living, which is the same thing,
in many ways. We confiscated illegal traps and nets, the materials
of which had cost them considerable sums and the making of which
required weeks of labor. We prevented them from catching fish at
many times and seasons, which was equivalent to preventing them
from making as good a living as they might have made had we not
been in existence. And when we captured them, they were brought
into the courts of law, where heavy cash fines were collected from
them. As a result, they hated us vindictively. As the dog is the
natural enemy of the cat, the snake of man, so were we of the fish
patrol the natural enemies of the fishermen.
But it is to show that they could act generously as well as hate
bitterly that this story of Demetrios Contos is told. Demetrios
Contos lived in Vallejo. Next to Big Alec, he was the largest,
bravest, and most influential man among the Greeks. He had given
us no trouble, and I doubt if he would ever have clashed with us
had he not invested in a new salmon boat. This boat was the cause
of all the trouble. He had had it built upon his own model, in
which the lines of the general salmon boat were somewhat modified.
To his high elation he found his new boat very fast--in fact,
faster than any other boat on the bay or rivers. Forthwith he grew
proud and boastful: and, our raid with the Mary Rebecca on the
Sunday salmon fishers having wrought fear in their hearts, he sent
a challenge up to Benicia. One of the local fishermen conveyed it
to us; it was to the effect that Demetrios Contos would sail up
from Vallejo on the following Sunday, and in the plain sight of
Benicia set his net and catch salmon, and that Charley Le Grant,
patrolman, might come and get him if he could. Of course Charley
and I had heard nothing of the new boat. Our own boat was pretty
fast, and we were not afraid to have a brush with any other that
Sunday came. The challenge had been bruited abroad, and the
fishermen and seafaring folk of Benicia turned out to a man,
crowding Steamboat Wharf till it looked like the grand stand at a
football match. Charley and I had been sceptical, but the fact of
the crowd convinced us that there was something in Demetrios
In the afternoon, when the sea-breeze had picked up in strength,
his sail hove into view as he bowled along before the wind. He
tacked a score of feet from the wharf, waved his hand theatrically,
like a knight about to enter the lists, received a hearty cheer in
return, and stood away into the Straits for a couple of hundred
yards. Then he lowered sail, and, drifting the boat sidewise by
means of the wind, proceeded to set his net. He did not set much
of it, possibly fifty feet; yet Charley and I were thunderstruck at
the man's effrontery. We did not know at the time, but we learned
afterward, that the net he used was old and worthless. It COULD
catch fish, true; but a catch of any size would have torn it to
Charley shook his head and said:
"I confess, it puzzles me. What if he has out only fifty feet? He
could never get it in if we once started for him. And why does he
come here anyway, flaunting his law-breaking in our faces? Right
in our home town, too."
Charley's voice took on an aggrieved tone, and he continued for
some minutes to inveigh against the brazenness of Demetrios Contos.
In the meantime, the man in question was lolling in the stern of
his boat and watching the net floats. When a large fish is meshed
in a gill-net, the floats by their agitation advertise the fact.
And they evidently advertised it to Demetrios, for he pulled in
about a dozen feet of net, and held aloft for a moment, before he
flung it into the bottom of the boat, a big, glistening salmon. It
was greeted by the audience on the wharf with round after round of
cheers. This was more than Charley could stand.
"Come on, lad," he called to me; and we lost no time jumping into
our salmon boat and getting up sail.
The crowd shouted warning to Demetrios, and as we darted out from
the wharf we saw him slash his worthless net clear with a long
knife. His sail was all ready to go up, and a moment later it
fluttered in the sunshine. He ran aft, drew in the sheet, and
filled on the long tack toward the Contra Costa Hills.
By this time we were not more than thirty feet astern. Charley was
jubilant. He knew our boat was fast, and he knew, further, that in
fine sailing few men were his equals. He was confident that we
should surely catch Demetrios, and I shared his confidence. But
somehow we did not seem to gain.
It was a pretty sailing breeze. We were gliding sleekly through
the water, but Demetrios was slowly sliding away from us. And not
only was he going faster, but he was eating into the wind a
fraction of a point closer than we. This was sharply impressed
upon us when he went about under the Contra Costa Hills and passed
us on the other tack fully one hundred feet dead to windward.
"Whew!" Charley exclaimed. "Either that boat is a daisy, or we've
got a five-gallon coal-oil can fast to our keel!"
It certainly looked it one way or the other. And by the time
Demetrios made the Sonoma Hills, on the other side of the Straits,
we were so hopelessly outdistanced that Charley told me to slack
off the sheet, and we squared away for Benicia. The fishermen on
Steamboat Wharf showered us with ridicule when we returned and tied
up. Charley and I got out and walked away, feeling rather
sheepish, for it is a sore stroke to one's pride when he thinks he
has a good boat and knows how to sail it, and another man comes
along and beats him.
Charley mooned over it for a couple of days; then word was brought
to us, as before, that on the next Sunday Demetrios Contos would
repeat his performance. Charley roused himself. He had our boat
out of the water, cleaned and repainted its bottom, made a trifling
alteration about the centre-board, overhauled the running gear, and
sat up nearly all of Saturday night sewing on a new and much larger
sail. So large did he make it, in fact, that additional ballast
was imperative, and we stowed away nearly five hundred extra pounds
of old railroad iron in the bottom of the boat.
Sunday came, and with it came Demetrios Contos, to break the law
defiantly in open day. Again we had the afternoon sea-breeze, and
again Demetrios cut loose some forty or more feet of his rotten
net, and got up sail and under way under our very noses. But he
had anticipated Charley's move, and his own sail peaked higher than
ever, while a whole extra cloth had been added to the after leech.
It was nip and tuck across to the Contra Costa Hills, neither of us
seeming to gain or to lose. But by the time we had made the return
tack to the Sonoma Hills, we could see that, while we footed it at
about equal speed, Demetrios had eaten into the wind the least bit
more than we. Yet Charley was sailing our boat as finely and
delicately as it was possible to sail it, and getting more out of
it than he ever had before.
Of course, he could have drawn his revolver and fired at Demetrios;
but we had long since found it contrary to our natures to shoot at
a fleeing man guilty of only a petty offence. Also a sort of tacit
agreement seemed to have been reached between the patrolmen and the
fishermen. If we did not shoot while they ran away, they, in turn,
did not fight if we once laid hands on them. Thus Demetrios Contos
ran away from us, and we did no more than try our best to overtake
him; and, in turn, if our boat proved faster than his, or was
sailed better, he would, we knew, make no resistance when we caught
up with him.
With our large sails and the healthy breeze romping up the
Carquinez Straits, we found that our sailing was what is called
"ticklish." We had to be constantly on the alert to avoid a
capsize, and while Charley steered I held the main-sheet in my hand
with but a single turn round a pin, ready to let go at any moment.
Demetrios, we could see, sailing his boat alone, had his hands
But it was a vain undertaking for us to attempt to catch him. Out
of his inner consciousness he had evolved a boat that was better
than ours. And though Charley sailed fully as well, if not the
least bit better, the boat he sailed was not so good as the
"Slack away the sheet," Charley commanded; and as our boat fell off
before the wind, Demetrios's mocking laugh floated down to us.
Charley shook his head, saying, "It's no use. Demetrios has the
better boat. If he tries his performance again, we must meet it
with some new scheme."
This time it was my imagination that came to the rescue.
"What's the matter," I suggested, on the Wednesday following, "with
my chasing Demetrios in the boat next Sunday, while you wait for
him on the wharf at Vallejo when he arrives?"
Charley considered it a moment and slapped his knee.
"A good idea! You're beginning to use that head of yours. A
credit to your teacher, I must say."
"But you mustn't chase him too far," he went on, the next moment,
"or he'll head out into San Pablo Bay instead of running home to
Vallejo, and there I'll be, standing lonely on the wharf and
waiting in vain for him to arrive."
On Thursday Charley registered an objection to my plan.
"Everybody'll know I've gone to Vallejo, and you can depend upon it
that Demetrios will know, too. I'm afraid we'll have to give up
This objection was only too valid, and for the rest of the day I
struggled under my disappointment. But that night a new way seemed
to open to me, and in my eagerness I awoke Charley from a sound
"Well," he grunted, "what's the matter? House afire?"
"No," I replied, "but my head is. Listen to this. On Sunday you
and I will be around Benicia up to the very moment Demetrios's sail
heaves into sight. This will lull everybody's suspicions. Then,
when Demetrios's sail does heave in sight, do you stroll leisurely
away and up-town. All the fishermen will think you're beaten and
that you know you're beaten."
"So far, so good," Charley commented, while I paused to catch
"And very good indeed," I continued proudly. "You stroll
carelessly up-town, but when you're once out of sight you leg it
for all you're worth for Dan Maloney's. Take the little mare of
his, and strike out on the country road for Vallejo. The road's in
fine condition, and you can make it in quicker time than Demetrios
can beat all the way down against the wind."
"And I'll arrange right away for the mare, first thing in the
morning," Charley said, accepting the modified plan without
"But, I say," he said, a little later, this time waking ME out of a
I could hear him chuckling in the dark.
"I say, lad, isn't it rather a novelty for the fish patrol to be
taking to horseback?"
"Imagination," I answered. "It's what you're always preaching--
'keep thinking one thought ahead of the other fellow, and you're
bound to win out.'"
"He! he!" he chuckled. "And if one thought ahead, including a
mare, doesn't take the other fellow's breath away this time, I'm
not your humble servant, Charley Le Grant."
"But can you manage the boat alone?" he asked, on Friday.
"Remember, we've a ripping big sail on her."
I argued my proficiency so well that he did not refer to the matter
again till Saturday, when he suggested removing one whole cloth
from the after leech. I guess it was the disappointment written on
my face that made him desist; for I, also, had a pride in my boat-
sailing abilities, and I was almost wild to get out alone with the
big sail and go tearing down the Carquinez Straits in the wake of
the flying Greek.
As usual, Sunday and Demetrios Contos arrived together. It had
become the regular thing for the fishermen to assemble on Steamboat
Wharf to greet his arrival and to laugh at our discomfiture. He
lowered sail a couple of hundred yards out and set his customary
fifty feet of rotten net.
"I suppose this nonsense will keep up as long as his old net holds
out," Charley grumbled, with intention, in the hearing of several
of the Greeks.
"Den I give-a heem my old-a net-a," one of them spoke up, promptly
"I don't care," Charley answered. "I've got some old net myself he
can have--if he'll come around and ask for it."
They all laughed at this, for they could afford to be sweet-
tempered with a man so badly outwitted as Charley was.
"Well, so long, lad," Charley called to me a moment later. "I
think I'll go up-town to Maloney's."
"Let me take the boat out?" I asked.
"If you want to," was his answer, as he turned on his heel and
walked slowly away.
Demetrios pulled two large salmon out of his net, and I jumped into
the boat. The fishermen crowded around in a spirit of fun, and
when I started to get up sail overwhelmed me with all sorts of
jocular advice. They even offered extravagant bets to one another
that I would surely catch Demetrios, and two of them, styling
themselves the committee of judges, gravely asked permission to
come along with me to see how I did it.
But I was in no hurry. I waited to give Charley all the time I
could, and I pretended dissatisfaction with the stretch of the sail
and slightly shifted the small tackle by which the huge sprit
forces up the peak. It was not until I was sure that Charley had
reached Dan Maloney's and was on the little mare's back, that I
cast off from the wharf and gave the big sail to the wind. A stout
puff filled it and suddenly pressed the lee gunwale down till a
couple of buckets of water came inboard. A little thing like this
will happen to the best small-boat sailors, and yet, though I
instantly let go the sheet and righted, I was cheered
sarcastically, as though I had been guilty of a very awkward
When Demetrios saw only one person in the fish patrol boat, and
that one a boy, he proceeded to play with me. Making a short tack
out, with me not thirty feet behind, he returned, with his sheet a
little free, to Steamboat Wharf. And there he made short tacks,
and turned and twisted and ducked around, to the great delight of
his sympathetic audience. I was right behind him all the time, and
I dared to do whatever he did, even when he squared away before the
wind and jibed his big sail over--a most dangerous trick with such
a sail in such a wind.
He depended upon the brisk sea breeze and the strong ebb-tide,
which together kicked up a nasty sea, to bring me to grief. But I
was on my mettle, and never in all my life did I sail a boat better
than on that day. I was keyed up to concert pitch, my brain was
working smoothly and quickly, my hands never fumbled once, and it
seemed that I almost divined the thousand little things which a
small-boat sailor must be taking into consideration every second.
It was Demetrios who came to grief instead. Something went wrong
with his centre-board, so that it jammed in the case and would not
go all the way down. In a moment's breathing space, which he had
gained from me by a clever trick, I saw him working impatiently
with the centre-board, trying to force it down. I gave him little
time, and he was compelled quickly to return to the tiller and
The centre-board made him anxious. He gave over playing with me,
and started on the long beat to Vallejo. To my joy, on the first
long tack across, I found that I could eat into the wind just a
little bit closer than he. Here was where another man in the boat
would have been of value to him; for, with me but a few feet
astern, he did not dare let go the tiller and run amidships to try
to force down the centre-board.
Unable to hang on as close in the eye of the wind as formerly, he
proceeded to slack his sheet a trifle and to ease off a bit, in
order to outfoot me. This I permitted him to do till I had worked
to windward, when I bore down upon him. As I drew close, he
feinted at coming about. This led me to shoot into the wind to
forestall him. But it was only a feint, cleverly executed, and he
held back to his course while I hurried to make up lost ground.
He was undeniably smarter than I when it came to manoeuvring. Time
after time I all but had him, and each time he tricked me and
escaped. Besides, the wind was freshening, constantly, and each of
us had his hands full to avoid capsizing. As for my boat, it could
not have been kept afloat but for the extra ballast. I sat cocked
over the weather gunwale, tiller in one hand and sheet in the
other; and the sheet, with a single turn around a pin, I was very
often forced to let go in the severer puffs. This allowed the sail
to spill the wind, which was equivalent to taking off so much
driving power, and of course I lost ground. My consolation was
that Demetrios was as often compelled to do the same thing.
The strong ebb-tide, racing down the Straits in the teeth of the
wind, caused an unusually heavy and spiteful sea, which dashed
aboard continually. I was dripping wet, and even the sail was wet
half-way up the after leech. Once I did succeed in outmanoeuvring
Demetrios, so that my bow bumped into him amidships. Here was
where I should have had another man. Before I could run forward
and leap aboard, he shoved the boats apart with an oar, laughing
mockingly in my face as he did so.
We were now at the mouth of the Straits, in a bad stretch of water.
Here the Vallejo Straits and the Carquinez Straits rushed directly
at each other. Through the first flowed all the water of Napa
River and the great tide-lands; through the second flowed all the
water of Suisun Bay and the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. And
where such immense bodies of water, flowing swiftly, clashed
together, a terrible tide-rip was produced. To make it worse, the
wind howled up San Pablo Bay for fifteen miles and drove in a
tremendous sea upon the tide-rip.
Conflicting currents tore about in all directions, colliding,
forming whirlpools, sucks, and boils, and shooting up spitefully
into hollow waves which fell aboard as often from leeward as from
windward. And through it all, confused, driven into a madness of
motion, thundered the great smoking seas from San Pablo Bay.
I was as wildly excited as the water. The boat was behaving
splendidly, leaping and lurching through the welter like a race-
horse. I could hardly contain myself with the joy of it. The huge
sail, the howling wind, the driving seas, the plunging boat--I, a
pygmy, a mere speck in the midst of it, was mastering the elemental
strife, flying through it and over it, triumphant and victorious.
And just then, as I roared along like a conquering hero, the boat
received a frightful smash and came instantly to a dead stop. I
was flung forward and into the bottom. As I sprang up I caught a
fleeting glimpse of a greenish, barnacle-covered object, and knew
it at once for what it was, that terror of navigation, a sunken
pile. No man may guard against such a thing. Water-logged and
floating just beneath the surface, it was impossible to sight it in
the troubled water in time to escape.
The whole bow of the boat must have been crushed in, for in a few
seconds the boat was half full. Then a couple of seas filled it,
and it sank straight down, dragged to bottom by the heavy ballast.
So quickly did it all happen that I was entangled in the sail and
drawn under. When I fought my way to the surface, suffocating, my
lungs almost bursting, I could see nothing of the oars. They must
have been swept away by the chaotic currents. I saw Demetrios
Contos looking back from his boat, and heard the vindictive and
mocking tones of his voice as he shouted exultantly. He held
steadily on his course, leaving me to perish.
There was nothing to do but to swim for it, which, in that wild
confusion, was at the best a matter of but a few moments. Holding
my breath and working with my hands, I managed to get off my heavy
sea-boots and my jacket. Yet there was very little breath I could
catch to hold, and I swiftly discovered that it was not so much a
matter of swimming as of breathing.
I was beaten and buffeted, smashed under by the great San Pablo
whitecaps, and strangled by the hollow tide-rip waves which flung
themselves into my eyes, nose, and mouth. Then the strange sucks
would grip my legs and drag me under, to spout me up in some fierce
boiling, where, even as I tried to catch my breath, a great
whitecap would crash down upon my head.
It was impossible to survive any length of time. I was breathing
more water than air, and drowning all the time. My senses began to
leave me, my head to whirl around. I struggled on, spasmodically,
instinctively, and was barely half conscious when I felt myself
caught by the shoulders and hauled over the gunwale of a boat.
For some time I lay across a seat where I had been flung, face
downward, and with the water running out of my mouth. After a
while, still weak and faint, I turned around to see who was my
rescuer. And there, in the stern, sheet in one hand and tiller in
the other, grinning and nodding good-naturedly, sat Demetrios
Contos. He had intended to leave me to drown,--he said so
afterward,--but his better self had fought the battle, conquered,
and sent him back to me.
"You all-a right?" he asked.
I managed to shape a "yes" on my lips, though I could not yet
"You sail-a de boat verr-a good-a," he said. "So good-a as a man."
A compliment from Demetrios Contos was a compliment indeed, and I
keenly appreciated it, though I could only nod my head in
We held no more conversation, for I was busy recovering and he was
busy with the boat. He ran in to the wharf at Vallejo, made the
boat fast, and helped me out. Then it was, as we both stood on the
wharf, that Charley stepped out from behind a net-rack and put his
hand on Demetrios Contos's arm.
"He saved my life, Charley," I protested; "and I don't think he
ought to be arrested."
A puzzled expression came into Charley's face, which cleared
immediately after, in a way it had when he made up his mind.
"I can't help it, lad," he said kindly. "I can't go back on my
duty, and it's plain duty to arrest him. To-day is Sunday; there
are two salmon in his boat which he caught to-day. What else can I
"But he saved my life," I persisted, unable to make any other
Demetrios Contos's face went black with rage when he learned
Charley's judgment. He had a sense of being unfairly treated. The
better part of his nature had triumphed, he had performed a
generous act and saved a helpless enemy, and in return the enemy
was taking him to jail.
Charley and I were out of sorts with each other when we went back
to Benicia. I stood for the spirit of the law and not the letter;
but by the letter Charley made his stand. As far as he could see,
there was nothing else for him to do. The law said distinctly that
no salmon should be caught on Sunday. He was a patrolman, and it
was his duty to enforce that law. That was all there was to it.
He had done his duty, and his conscience was clear. Nevertheless,
the whole thing seemed unjust to me, and I felt very sorry for
Two days later we went down to Vallejo to the trial. I had to go
along as a witness, and it was the most hateful task that I ever
performed in my life when I testified on the witness stand to
seeing Demetrios catch the two salmon Charley had captured him
Demetrios had engaged a lawyer, but his case was hopeless. The
jury was out only fifteen minutes, and returned a verdict of
guilty. The judge sentenced Demetrios to pay a fine of one hundred
dollars or go to jail for fifty days.
Charley stepped up to the clerk of the court. "I want to pay that
fine," he said, at the same time placing five twenty-dollar gold
pieces on the desk. "It--it was the only way out of it, lad," he
stammered, turning to me.
The moisture rushed into my eyes as I seized his hand. "I want to
pay--" I began.
"To pay your half?" he interrupted. "I certainly shall expect you
to pay it."
In the meantime Demetrios had been informed by his lawyer that his
fee likewise had been paid by Charley.
Demetrios came over to shake Charley's hand, and all his warm
Southern blood flamed in his face. Then, not to be outdone in
generosity, he insisted on paying his fine and lawyer's fee
himself, and flew half-way into a passion because Charley refused
to let him.
More than anything else we ever did, I think, this action of
Charley's impressed upon the fishermen the deeper significance of
the law. Also Charley was raised high in their esteem, while I
came in for a little share of praise as a boy who knew how to sail
a boat. Demetrios Contos not only never broke the law again, but
he became a very good friend of ours, and on more than one occasion
he ran up to Benicia to have a gossip with us.
"I'm not wanting to dictate to you, lad," Charley said; "but I'm
very much against your making a last raid. You've gone safely
through rough times with rough men, and it would be a shame to have
something happen to you at the very end."
"But how can I get out of making a last raid?" I demanded, with the
cocksureness of youth. "There always has to be a last, you know,
Charley crossed his legs, leaned back, and considered the problem.
"Very true. But why not call the capture of Demetrios Contos the
last? You're back from it safe and sound and hearty, for all your
good wetting, and--and--" His voice broke and he could not speak
for a moment. "And I could never forgive myself if anything
happened to you now."
I laughed at Charley's fears while I gave in to the claims of his
affection, and agreed to consider the last raid already performed.
We had been together for two years, and now I was leaving the fish
patrol in order to go back and finish my education. I had earned
and saved money to put me through three years at the high school,
and though the beginning of the term was several months away, I
intended doing a lot of studying for the entrance examinations.
My belongings were packed snugly in a sea-chest, and I was all
ready to buy my ticket and ride down on the train to Oakland, when
Neil Partington arrived in Benicia. The Reindeer was needed
immediately for work far down on the Lower Bay, and Neil said he
intended to run straight for Oakland. As that was his home and as
I was to live with his family while going to school, he saw no
reason, he said, why I should not put my chest aboard and come
So the chest went aboard, and in the middle of the afternoon we
hoisted the Reindeer's big mainsail and cast off. It was
tantalizing fall weather. The sea-breeze, which had blown steadily
all summer, was gone, and in its place were capricious winds and
murky skies which made the time of arriving anywhere extremely
problematical. We started on the first of the ebb, and as we
slipped down the Carquinez Straits, I looked my last for some time
upon Benicia and the bight at Turner's Shipyard, where we had
besieged the Lancashire Queen, and had captured Big Alec, the King
of the Greeks. And at the mouth of the Straits I looked with not a
little interest upon the spot where a few days before I should have
drowned but for the good that was in the nature of Demetrios
A great wall of fog advanced across San Pablo Bay to meet us, and
in a few minutes the Reindeer was running blindly through the damp
obscurity. Charley, who was steering, seemed to have an instinct
for that kind of work. How he did it, he himself confessed that he
did not know; but he had a way of calculating winds, currents,
distance, time, drift, and sailing speed that was truly marvellous.
"It looks as though it were lifting," Neil Partington said, a
couple of hours after we had entered the fog. "Where do you say we
Charley looked at his watch, "Six o'clock, and three hours more of
ebb," he remarked casually.
"But where do you say we are?" Neil insisted.
Charley pondered a moment, and then answered, "The tide has edged
us over a bit out of our course, but if the fog lifts right now, as
it is going to lift, you'll find we're not more than a thousand
miles off McNear's Landing."
"You might be a little more definite by a few miles, anyway," Neil
grumbled, showing by his tone that he disagreed.
"All right, then," Charley said, conclusively, "not less than a
quarter of a mile, not more than a half."
The wind freshened with a couple of little puffs, and the fog
"McNear's is right off there," Charley said, pointing directly into
the fog on our weather beam.
The three of us were peering intently in that direction, when the
Reindeer struck with a dull crash and came to a standstill. We ran
forward, and found her bowsprit entangled in the tanned rigging of
a short, chunky mast. She had collided, head on, with a Chinese
junk lying at anchor.
At the moment we arrived forward, five Chinese, like so many bees,
came swarming out of the little 'tween-decks cabin, the sleep still
in their eyes.
Leading them came a big, muscular man, conspicuous for his pock-
marked face and the yellow silk handkerchief swathed about his
head. It was Yellow Handkerchief, the Chinaman whom we had
arrested for illegal shrimp-fishing the year before, and who, at
that time, had nearly sunk the Reindeer, as he had nearly sunk it
now by violating the rules of navigation.
"What d'ye mean, you yellow-faced heathen, lying here in a fairway
without a horn a-going?" Charley cried hotly.
"Mean?" Neil calmly answered. "Just take a look--that's what he
Our eyes followed the direction indicated by Neil's finger, and we
saw the open amidships of the junk, half filled, as we found on
closer examination, with fresh-caught shrimps. Mingled with the
shrimps were myriads of small fish, from a quarter of an inch
upward in size.
Yellow Handkerchief had lifted the trap-net at high-water slack,
and, taking advantage of the concealment offered by the fog, had
boldly been lying by, waiting to lift the net again at low-water
"Well," Neil hummed and hawed, "in all my varied and extensive
experience as a fish patrolman, I must say this is the easiest
capture I ever made. What'll we do with them, Charley?"
"Tow the junk into San Rafael, of course," came the answer.
Charley turned to me. "You stand by the junk, lad, and I'll pass
you a towing line. If the wind doesn't fail us, we'll make the
creek before the tide gets too low, sleep at San Rafael, and arrive
in Oakland to-morrow by midday."
So saying, Charley and Neil returned to the Reindeer and got under
way, the junk towing astern. I went aft and took charge of the
prize, steering by means of an antiquated tiller and a rudder with
large, diamond-shaped holes, through which the water rushed back
By now the last of the fog had vanished, and Charley's estimate of
our position was confirmed by the sight of McNear's Landing a short
half-mile away. Following along the west shore, we rounded Point
Pedro in plain view of the Chinese shrimp villages, and a great to-
do was raised when they saw one of their junks towing behind the
familiar fish patrol sloop.
The wind, coming off the land, was rather puffy and uncertain, and
it would have been more to our advantage had it been stronger. San
Rafael Creek, up which we had to go to reach the town and turn over
our prisoners to the authorities, ran through wide-stretching
marshes, and was difficult to navigate on a falling tide, while at
low tide it was impossible to navigate at all. So, with the tide
already half-ebbed, it was necessary for us to make time. This the
heavy junk prevented, lumbering along behind and holding the
Reindeer back by just so much dead weight.
"Tell those coolies to get up that sail," Charley finally called to
me. "We don't want to hang up on the mud flats for the rest of the
I repeated the order to Yellow Handkerchief, who mumbled it huskily
to his men. He was suffering from a bad cold, which doubled him up
in convulsive coughing spells and made his eyes heavy and
bloodshot. This made him more evil-looking than ever, and when he
glared viciously at me I remembered with a shiver the close shave I
had had with him at the time of his previous arrest.
His crew sullenly tailed on to the halyards, and the strange,
outlandish sail, lateen in rig and dyed a warm brown, rose in the
air. We were sailing on the wind, and when Yellow Handkerchief
flattened down the sheet the junk forged ahead and the tow-line
went slack. Fast as the Reindeer could sail, the junk outsailed
her; and to avoid running her down I hauled a little closer on the
wind. But the junk likewise outpointed, and in a couple of minutes
I was abreast of the Reindeer and to windward. The tow-line had
now tautened, at right angles to the two boats, and the predicament
"Cast off!" I shouted.
"It's all right," I added. "Nothing can happen. We'll make the
creek on this tack, and you'll be right behind me all the way up to
At this Charley cast off, and Yellow Handkerchief sent one of his
men forward to haul in the line. In the gathering darkness I could
just make out the mouth of San Rafael Creek, and by the time we
entered it I could barely see its banks. The Reindeer was fully
five minutes astern, and we continued to leave her astern as we
beat up the narrow, winding channel. With Charley behind us, it
seemed I had little to fear from my five prisoners; but the
darkness prevented my keeping a sharp eye on them, so I transferred
my revolver from my trousers pocket to the side pocket of my coat,
where I could more quickly put my hand on it.
Yellow Handkerchief was the one I feared, and that he knew it and
made use of it, subsequent events will show. He was sitting a few
feet away from me, on what then happened to be the weather side of
the junk. I could scarcely see the outlines of his form, but I
soon became convinced that he was slowly, very slowly, edging
closer to me. I watched him carefully. Steering with my left
hand, I slipped my right into my pocket and got hold of the
I saw him shift along for a couple of inches, and I was just about
to order him back--the words were trembling on the tip of my
tongue--when I was struck with great force by a heavy figure that
had leaped through the air upon me from the lee side. It was one
of the crew. He pinioned my right arm so that I could not withdraw
my hand from my pocket, and at the same time clapped his other hand
over my mouth. Of course, I could have struggled away from him and
freed my hand or gotten my mouth clear so that I might cry an
alarm, but in a trice Yellow Handkerchief was on top of me.
I struggled around to no purpose in the bottom of the junk, while
my legs and arms were tied and my mouth securely bound in what I
afterward found to be a cotton shirt. Then I was left lying in the
bottom. Yellow Handkerchief took the tiller, issuing his orders in
whispers; and from our position at the time, and from the
alteration of the sail, which I could dimly make out above me as a
blot against the stars, I knew the junk was being headed into the
mouth of a small slough which emptied at that point into San Rafael
In a couple of minutes we ran softly alongside the bank, and the
sail was silently lowered. The Chinese kept very quiet. Yellow
Handkerchief sat down in the bottom alongside of me, and I could
feel him straining to repress his raspy, hacking cough. Possibly
seven or eight minutes later I heard Charley's voice as the
Reindeer went past the mouth of the slough.
"I can't tell you how relieved I am," I could plainly hear him
saying to Neil, "that the lad has finished with the fish patrol
Here Neil said something which I could not catch, and then
Charley's voice went on:
"The youngster takes naturally to the water, and if, when he
finishes high school, he takes a course in navigation and goes deep
sea, I see no reason why he shouldn't rise to be master of the
finest and biggest ship afloat."
It was all very flattering to me, but lying there, bound and gagged
by my own prisoners, with the voices growing faint and fainter as
the Reindeer slipped on through the darkness toward San Rafael, I
must say I was not in quite the proper situation to enjoy my
smiling future. With the Reindeer went my last hope. What was to
happen next I could not imagine, for the Chinese were a different
race from mine, and from what I knew I was confident that fair play
was no part of their make-up.
After waiting a few minutes longer, the crew hoisted the lateen
sail, and Yellow Handkerchief steered down toward the mouth of San
Rafael Creek. The tide was getting lower, and he had difficulty in
escaping the mud-banks. I was hoping he would run aground, but he
succeeded in making the Bay without accident.
As we passed out of the creek a noisy discussion arose, which I
knew related to me. Yellow Handkerchief was vehement, but the
other four as vehemently opposed him. It was very evident that he
advocated doing away with me and that they were afraid of the
consequences. I was familiar enough with the Chinese character to
know that fear alone restrained them. But what plan they offered
in place of Yellow Handkerchief's murderous one, I could not make
My feelings, as my fate hung in the balance, may be guessed. The
discussion developed into a quarrel, in the midst of which Yellow
Handkerchief unshipped the heavy tiller and sprang toward me. But
his four companions threw themselves between, and a clumsy struggle
took place for possession of the tiller. In the end Yellow
Handkerchief was overcome, and sullenly returned to the steering,
while they soundly berated him for his rashness.
Not long after, the sail was run down and the junk slowly urged
forward by means of the sweeps. I felt it ground gently on the
soft mud. Three of the Chinese--they all wore long sea-boots--got
over the side, and the other two passed me across the rail. With
Yellow Handkerchief at my legs and his two companions at my
shoulders, they began to flounder along through the mud. After
some time their feet struck firmer footing, and I knew they were
carrying me up some beach. The location of this beach was not
doubtful in my mind. It could be none other than one of the Marin
Islands, a group of rocky islets which lay off the Marin County
When they reached the firm sand that marked high tide, I was
dropped, and none too gently. Yellow Handkerchief kicked me
spitefully in the ribs, and then the trio floundered back through
the mud to the junk. A moment later I heard the sail go up and
slat in the wind as they drew in the sheet. Then silence fell, and
I was left to my own devices for getting free.
I remembered having seen tricksters writhe and squirm out of ropes
with which they were bound, but though I writhed and squirmed like
a good fellow, the knots remained as hard as ever, and there was no
appreciable slack. In the course of my squirming, however, I
rolled over upon a heap of clam-shells--the remains, evidently, of
some yachting party's clam-bake. This gave me an idea. My hands
were tied behind my back; and, clutching a shell in them, I rolled
over and over, up the beach, till I came to the rocks I knew to be
Rolling around and searching, I finally discovered a narrow
crevice, into which I shoved the shell. The edge of it was sharp,
and across the sharp edge I proceeded to saw the rope that bound my
wrists. The edge of the shell was also brittle, and I broke it by
bearing too heavily upon it. Then I rolled back to the heap and
returned with as many shells as I could carry in both hands. I
broke many shells, cut my hands a number of times, and got cramps
in my legs from my strained position and my exertions.
While I was suffering from the cramps, and resting, I heard a
familiar halloo drift across the water. It was Charley, searching
for me. The gag in my mouth prevented me from replying, and I
could only lie there, helplessly fuming, while he rowed past the
island and his voice slowly lost itself in the distance.
I returned to the sawing process, and at the end of half an hour
succeeded in severing the rope. The rest was easy. My hands once
free, it was a matter of minutes to loosen my legs and to take the
gag out of my mouth. I ran around the island to make sure it WAS
an island and not by any chance a portion of the mainland. An
island it certainly was, one of the Marin group, fringed with a
sandy beach and surrounded by a sea of mud. Nothing remained but
to wait till daylight and to keep warm; for it was a cold, raw
night for California, with just enough wind to pierce the skin and
cause one to shiver.
To keep up the circulation, I ran around the island a dozen times
or so, and clambered across its rocky backbone as many times more--
all of which was of greater service to me, as I afterward
discovered, than merely to warm me up. In the midst of this
exercise I wondered if I had lost anything out of my pockets while
rolling over and over in the sand. A search showed the absence of
my revolver and pocket-knife. The first Yellow Handkerchief had
taken; but the knife had been lost in the sand.
I was hunting for it when the sound of rowlocks came to my ears.
At first, of course, I thought of Charley; but on second thought I
knew Charley would be calling out as he rowed along. A sudden
premonition of danger seized me. The Marin Islands are lonely
places; chance visitors in the dead of night are hardly to be
expected. What if it were Yellow Handkerchief? The sound made by
the rowlocks grew more distinct. I crouched in the sand and
listened intently. The boat, which I judged a small skiff from the
quick stroke of the oars, was landing in the mud about fifty yards
up the beach. I heard a raspy, hacking cough, and my heart stood
still. It was Yellow Handkerchief. Not to be robbed of his
revenge by his more cautious companions, he had stolen away from
the village and come back alone.
I did some swift thinking. I was unarmed and helpless on a tiny
islet, and a yellow barbarian, whom I had reason to fear, was
coming after me. Any place was safer than the island, and I turned
instinctively to the water, or rather to the mud. As he began to
flounder ashore through the mud, I started to flounder out into it,
going over the same course which the Chinese had taken in landing
me and in returning to the junk.
Yellow Handkerchief, believing me to be lying tightly bound,
exercised no care, but came ashore noisily. This helped me, for,
under the shield of his noise and making no more myself than
necessary, I managed to cover fifty feet by the time he had made
the beach. Here I lay down in the mud. It was cold and clammy,
and made me shiver, but I did not care to stand up and run the risk
of being discovered by his sharp eyes.
He walked down the beach straight to where he had left me lying,
and I had a fleeting feeling of regret at not being able to see his
surprise when he did not find me. But it was a very fleeting
regret, for my teeth were chattering with the cold.
What his movements were after that I had largely to deduce from the
facts of the situation, for I could scarcely see him in the dim
starlight. But I was sure that the first thing he did was to make
the circuit of the beach to learn if landings had been made by
other boats. This he would have known at once by the tracks
through the mud.
Convinced that no boat had removed me from the island, he next
started to find out what had become of me. Beginning at the pile
of clamshells, he lighted matches to trace my tracks in the sand.
At such times I could see his villanous face plainly, and, when the
sulphur from the matches irritated his lungs, between the raspy
cough that followed and the clammy mud in which I was lying, I
confess I shivered harder than ever.
The multiplicity of my footprints puzzled him. Then the idea that
I might be out in the mud must have struck him, for he waded out a
few yards in my direction, and, stooping, with his eyes searched
the dim surface long and carefully. He could not have been more
than fifteen feet from me, and had he lighted a match he would
surely have discovered me.
He returned to the beach and clambered about, over the rocky
backbone, again hunting for me with lighted matches, The closeness
of the shave impelled me to further flight. Not daring to wade
upright, on account of the noise made by floundering and by the
suck of the mud, I remained lying down in the mud and propelled
myself over its surface by means of my hands. Still keeping the
trail made by the Chinese in going from and to the junk, I held on
until I reached the water. Into this I waded to a depth of three
feet, and then I turned off to the side on a line parallel with the
The thought came to me of going toward Yellow Handkerchief's skiff
and escaping in it, but at that very moment he returned to the
beach, and, as though fearing the very thing I had in mind, he
slushed out through the mud to assure himself that the skiff was
safe. This turned me in the opposite direction. Half swimming,
half wading, with my head just out of water and avoiding splashing,
I succeeded in putting about a hundred feet between myself and the
spot where the Chinese had begun to wade ashore from the junk. I
drew myself out on the mud and remained lying flat.
Again Yellow Handkerchief returned to the beach and made a search
of the island, and again he returned to the heap of clam-shells. I
knew what was running in his mind as well as he did himself. No
one could leave or land without making tracks in the mud. The only
tracks to be seen were those leading from his skiff and from where
the junk had been. I was not on the island. I must have left it
by one or the other of those two tracks. He had just been over the
one to his skiff, and was certain I had not left that way.
Therefore I could have left the island only by going over the
tracks of the junk landing. This he proceeded to verify by wading
out over them himself, lighting matches as he came along.
When he arrived at the point where I had first lain, I knew, by the
matches he burned and the time he took, that he had discovered the
marks left by my body. These he followed straight to the water and
into it, but in three feet of water he could no longer see them.
On the other hand, as the tide was still falling, he could easily
make out the impression made by the junk's bow, and could have
likewise made out the impression of any other boat if it had landed
at that particular spot. But there was no such mark; and I knew
that he was absolutely convinced that I was hiding somewhere in the
But to hunt on a dark night for a boy in a sea of mud would be like
hunting for a needle in a haystack, and he did not attempt it.
Instead he went back to the beach and prowled around for some time.
I was hoping he would give me up and go, for by this time I was
suffering severely from the cold. At last he waded out to his
skiff and rowed away. What if this departure of Yellow
Handkerchief's were a sham? What if he had done it merely to
entice me ashore?
The more I thought of it the more certain I became that he had made
a little too much noise with his oars as he rowed away. So I
remained, lying in the mud and shivering. I shivered till the
muscles of the small of my back ached and pained me as badly as the
cold, and I had need of all my self-control to force myself to
remain in my miserable situation.
It was well that I did, however, for, possibly an hour later, I
thought I could make out something moving on the beach. I watched
intently, but my ears were rewarded first, by a raspy cough I knew
only too well. Yellow Handkerchief had sneaked back, landed on the
other side of the island, and crept around to surprise me if I had
After that, though hours passed without sign of him, I was afraid
to return to the island at all. On the other hand, I was almost
equally afraid that I should die of the exposure I was undergoing.
I had never dreamed one could suffer so. I grew so cold and numb,
finally, that I ceased to shiver. But my muscles and bones began
to ache in a way that was agony. The tide had long since begun to
rise, and, foot by foot, it drove me in toward the beach. High
water came at three o'clock, and at three o'clock I drew myself up
on the beach, more dead than alive, and too helpless to have
offered any resistance had Yellow Handkerchief swooped down upon
But no Yellow Handkerchief appeared. He had given me up and gone
back to Point Pedro. Nevertheless, I was in a deplorable, not to
say dangerous, condition. I could not stand upon my feet, much
less walk. My clammy, muddy garments clung to me like sheets of
ice. I thought I should never get them off. So numb and lifeless
were my fingers, and so weak was I, that it seemed to take an hour
to get off my shoes. I had not the strength to break the porpoise-
hide laces, and the knots defied me. I repeatedly beat my hands
upon the rocks to get some sort of life into them. Sometimes I
felt sure I was going to die.
But in the end,--after several centuries, it seemed to me,--I got
off the last of my clothes. The water was now close at hand, and I
crawled painfully into it and washed the mud from my naked body.
Still, I could not get on my feet and walk and I was afraid to lie
still. Nothing remained but to crawl weakly, like a snail, and at
the cost of constant pain, up and down the sand. I kept this up as
long as possible, but as the east paled with the coming of dawn I
began to succumb. The sky grew rosy-red, and the golden rim of the
sun, showing above the horizon, found me lying helpless and
motionless among the clam-shells.
As in a dream, I saw the familiar mainsail of the Reindeer as she
slipped out of San Rafael Creek on a light puff of morning air.
This dream was very much broken. There are intervals I can never
recollect on looking back over it. Three things, however, I
distinctly remember: the first sight of the Reindeer's mainsail;
her lying at anchor a few hundred feet away and a small boat
leaving her side; and the cabin stove roaring red-hot, myself
swathed all over with blankets, except on the chest and shoulders,
which Charley was pounding and mauling unmercifully, and my mouth
and throat burning with the coffee which Neil Partington was
pouring down a trifle too hot.
But burn or no burn, I tell you it felt good. By the time we
arrived in Oakland I was as limber and strong as ever,--though
Charlie and Neil Partington were afraid I was going to have
pneumonia, and Mrs. Partington, for my first six months of school,
kept an anxious eye upon me to discover the first symptoms of
Time flies. It seems but yesterday that I was a lad of sixteen on
the fish patrol. Yet I know that I arrived this very morning from
China, with a quick passage to my credit, and master of the
barkentine Harvester. And I know that to-morrow morning I shall
run over to Oakland to see Neil Partington and his wife and family,
and later on up to Benicia to see Charley Le Grant and talk over
old times. No; I shall not go to Benicia, now that I think about
it. I expect to be a highly interested party to a wedding, shortly
to take place. Her name is Alice Partington, and, since Charley
has promised to be best man, he will have to come down to Oakland