Read CHAPTER XIII of The Harbor of Doubt , free online book, by Frank Williams, on ReadCentral.com.

NAT BURNS SHOWS HIS HAND

OFF Cape Sable the fleet was overhauled by a half-dozen schooners bound the same way, which displayed American flags at their main trucks as they came up.

“Gloucestermen!” said Nat Burns at the wheel of the Nettie B. “Set balloon jib and stays’l and we’ll give ’em a try-out.”

The men jumped to the orders, and the Nettie gathered headway as the American schooners came up. But the Gloucester craft crept up, passed, and with an ironical dip of their little flags raced on to the Banks.

Cape Sable was not yet out of sight when a topmast on the Rosan broke off short in a sudden squall. Bijonah Tanner immediately laid her to and set all hands to work stepping his spare spar, as he would not think of returning to a shipyard. Nat Burns, when he noticed the accident, laid to in turn and announced his intention of standing by the Rosan until she was ready to go on.

As these were among the fastest vessels in the fleet, the others proceeded on their way, and Nat seized the opportunity of the repairs to pay his fiancee a visit and remain to supper on the Rosan.

He found Nellie radiant and more beautiful than he had ever seen her. Protected from the cool breeze by a frieze overcoat, she stood bareheaded by the forerigging, her cheeks red, her brown eyes bright like stars, and her soft brown hair blowing about her face in alluring wisps.

He took her in a strong embrace. She struggled free after a moment, her cheeks flooded with color.

“Don’t, Nat!” she cried. “Before all the men, too! Please behave yourself!”

This last a little nervously as she saw the gleam in his eyes. Suddenly (for her) all the day seemed to have lost its exhilaration. She was always glad to see Nat, but his insistent use of his fiance rights under all circumstances grated on the natural delicacy that was hers.

His ardor dampened by this rebuke, the gleam in Nat’s eye became one of ugliness at his humiliation before the crew of the Rosan. He scowled furiously and stood by her side without saying a word. It was in this unfortunate moment that Nellie seized on the general topic of the day.

“Guess you’ll have to get off and push the Nettie B. before you can beat those Gloucestermen, Nat,” she said, teasing him.

“Say, I’ve heard about all I want to hear about that!” he snarled, suddenly losing control of himself as they walked back to the little cabin. The girl looked at him in hurt amazement. Never in all her life had a man spoken to her in such a tone. It was inconceivable that the man she was going to marry could address her so, if he even pretended to love her.

“Possibly you have,” she returned, not without a touch of asperity; “but you know as well as I do that you will have to deal with a Gloucester-built schooner before you are through with this voyage.”

In her efforts to placate him she had touched upon his sorest spot. His defeat by the American fishermen had been hard for his pride.

“I suppose you mean that crooked Schofield’s boat?” he flashed back, his face darkening.

“What do you mean by that?”

They were below now in her father’s little cabin, and she turned upon him with flashing eyes.

“Just what I said,” he returned sullenly.

“You say things then that have no foundation in fact,” she retorted vigorously. “You have no right to say a thing like that about Code Schofield.”

“I haven’t, eh?” he sneered, furious. “Since when have you been takin’ his side against me? No facts, eh? I’ll show him an’ you an’ everybody else whether there’s any foundation in fact! What do you suppose the insurance company is after him for if he isn’t a crook?”

Like all the people in Freekirk Head, Nellie had heard some of the rumors concerning Code’s possible part in the sinking of the May Schofield. Nat, for reasons of his own, had carefully refrained from enlarging on these to her, and in the absorption of her wooing by him she had let them go by unnoticed. Now, for the first time, the consequences they might have in Code’s life were made clear to her.

“I I don’t know,” she faltered, unable to reply to his direct question. “But I know this, that all his life Code has been an honest man and one of my best friends. I grew up with him just as I did with you, and I resent such talk about him as much as I would if it were about you.”

“Yes,” he sneered, “he has been entirely too much of a good friend. What was he always over to your place for, I’d like to know? And, even after he knew we were engaged, what was he doin’ down at Ma Sprague’s that night I called? An’ what did you go to his place for after the fire when I tried to get you to come to mine?”

The last question he roared out at the top of his voice, and the girl, now afraid of him, shrank back against the wall of the cabin.

She knew it was useless to say that she and Code had been like brother and sister all their lives, and that May Schofield was a second mother to her. All reason was hopeless in the face of this unreasoning jealousy. After a moment she found her speech.

“I guess, Nat,” she said, “you had better go back to your schooner until you are in a different mood.”

“Afraid to answer, ain’t you?” he cried. “When I face you down you’re afraid to answer an’ tell me I’d better go away. Well, now let me tell you something. You’re entirely too friendly with that crook, an’ I won’t have it! You’re engaged to me, and what I say goes. An’ let me tell you something else.

“The insurance company is after him because he sunk the May Schofield on purpose. But that ain’t the worst of the things he did ”

“What do you mean?” she flashed at him.

“You’ll find out quick enough, and so will he,” he snarled. “I’m not saying what is goin’ to happen to him, but when I’m through we’ll see if your hero is such a fine specimen.”

From fear to anger her spirit had gone, and now under the lash it turned to cold disdain. With a swift motion of her right hand over her left she drew off the diamond ring he had given her and held it out to him.

“Take this, Nat,” she said, so coldly that for once his rage was checked. He looked stupidly at the glittering emblem of her love, and suddenly became aware of the extent to which he had driven her. The reaction was as swift as the rage.

“Please, Nellie dear,” he begged, “don’t do that! Take it back. Forgive me. Everything has piled up so to-day that I lost my temper. Please don’t do that!”

But he had gone too far. He had shown her a new side to his character.

“No, Nat,” she said calmly, but still with that icy inflection of disdain; “this has gone too far. Take this ring. Some time, when you have made amends for this afternoon, I may see you again.”

“I won’t take it,” he replied doggedly. “Please, Nellie, forgive ”

“Take it,” she flashed, “or I will throw it into the ocean!”

She had unconsciously submitted him to a final test. He was about to let her carry out her threat if she saw fit when his cupidity overcame him. He reached out his hand, and she dropped the ring into it. She stood silent, pale, and cold, waiting for him to go.

He moved away. He had reached the foot of the companionway when he turned back.

“He has brought me to this,” he said so slowly and evilly that each word seemed a drop of venom. “But I’ll make him pay. I’m goin’ to St. John’s, and when I get back it will be the sorriest day in his life and yours, too. His life won’t be worth the thread it hangs on!”

With that he went up the companionway and, not noticing the greeting of Captain Tanner, dropped into his yellow dory that swung and bumped against the Rosan’s side. Swiftly he rowed to the Nettie B. and clambered aboard, bellowing orders to get up sail. In fifteen minutes the schooner was on the back track under every stitch of canvas she carried.

Bijonah Tanner stared blankly after the retreating Nettie. Then, knowing that his daughter had been with Nat, dropped down into the little cabin.

He found Nellie seated in the chair by the little table, and weeping.