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

ELLINWOOD TAKES A HAND

There were two things for Code to do. One was to sail north into Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, set seines, and catch the herring that were then schooling. The other was to run sixty miles or so northeast to St. Pierre, Miquelon, and buy bait.

Under ordinary circumstances he would not have hesitated. It would have been Placentia Bay without question. But his situation was now decidedly out of the ordinary. He was in a hurry to fill his hold with cod before the other men out of Freekirk Head; first, for the larger prices he would get; and secondly, because he yearned to come to grapples with Nat Burns.

To seine for herring would lose him upward of a week; to buy it would take less than three days, including the round trip to St. Pierre.

But the money?

Code knew that in the French island herring seldom went below three dollars a barrel, and that the smallest amount he ought to buy would be twenty-five barrels. Later on, if the fishing was good, he might send out a party to set the seines, but not now. He must buy. But the money!

Then he thought of the packet of money Elsa Mallaby had sent him. The cash was meant for any sailor who came to need it.

And the men with him were willing to fight to the last ditch and to take their lot ungrumblingly as fishermen early learn to do.

If he starved, they starved. So he decided he would not hesitate to use Elsa’s money when a dozen men and their families were dependent upon him and the success of the cruise.

Thus the matter was settled and the order roared down the decks:

“Set every stitch for St. Pierre; we’re going to bait up there. Lively, now!”

St. Pierre, Miquelon, is one of the quaintest towns in all of picturesque French Canada. It is on the island of the same name (there are three Miquelon islands), which is in itself a bold chunk of granite sticking up out of the ocean at a distance of some ten miles southwest of May Point, Newfoundland.

Rough and craggy, with few trees, sparse vegetation, and a very thin coating of soil, there is no agriculture, and the whole glory of the island is centered in the roaring city on its southeast side.

It is a strange city, lost in the midst of busy up-to-date Canada, with French roofs, narrow tilting streets, and ever the smell of fish. There is a good harbor, and there are wharfs where blackfaced men with blue stockings, caps, and gold earrings chatter the patois and smoke their pipes. In the busy time of year there are ten thousand men in the town and it is a scene of constant revelry and wildness.

The Charming Lass touched the port at the height of its season early September and, because of the shallowness of the harbor close in, anchored in the bay amid a crowd of old high-pooped schooners, filled with noisy, happy Frenchmen. There were other nationalities, too, in the cosmopolitan bay Americans setting a new spar or Nova Scotians in on a good time.

The Charming Lass cast her anchor shortly before six o’clock, having made the run in five and a half hours with a good breeze behind. Code and Ellinwood immediately went over the side in the brown dory of the mate and pulled for the customhouse wharf. The rest of the crew were forbidden off the decks except to sleep under them, for it was intended, as soon as the bait was lightered aboard, to make sail to the Banks again.

The bait industry in St. Pierre is one more or less open to examination. It is the delight of certain French dealers to go inside the English three-mile limit, load their vessels with barrels of herring, and return to St. Pierre. Here they sell them at magnificent profit to Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Americans. And, as the British coat of arms is not stamped on herring at birth, no one can prove that they were not legally procured.

But let a Canadian revenue cutter catch a Frenchman (or American either, for that matter), dipping herring in any out-of-the-way inlet, and the owner not only pays a heavy fine, but he often loses his schooner and his men go to jail for trying to hoist sail and escape at the last minute.

Code had not reached shore before he had been accosted by fully half a dozen of these bait pirates. But he passed them, and tying his dory at the wharf, went on up the street to a legitimate firm.

Immediately the business was finished, Code and Pete Ellinwood started back to the wharf.

The main street was ablaze with lights. Cafes, saloons, music halls, catch-penny places in fact, every device known to separate sailors from their wages was in operation. The sidewalks were crowded with men, jabbering madly in the different dialects of their home provinces (for many come here from France yearly).

“Queer lot, these frog-eaters,” said Pete, going into the street so as to avoid a thick, pushing crowd.

“Yes, they would come to a knifing over a count of fish and yet give their schooners to a friend in trouble. Too bad they ain’t better fishermen.”

“Yeah, ain’t it.”

Among Canadians and Americans the Frenchmen are held in contempt on account of their hooks, which are of soft metal and can be rebent and used again. The fish often get away with them, however, and these hidden hooks slit many a finger in dressing down.

The two comrades loitered along, watching the changing crowds, gay with their colored caps and scarfs. Some men were already in liquor, and all seemed to be headed in that general direction. Suddenly, as Code was about to urge Pete along, he gave an exclamation and stopped short.

“What’s the matter, skipper?”

“I wonder where he is now?” Code’s eyes were searching the crowd. “I saw him right over there.”

He pointed to a certain spot.

“Who? What? Are you crazy, Code?”

“’Arry Duncan, the traitor that ruined our bait. I’d have sworn I saw him. It came all of a sudden and went away again. But I guess it couldn’t have been anything but a close resemblance.” He laughed nervously. “Gave me the creeps for a minute, though.”

“Lor-rd!” shivered Pete, who had all the superstitions of the sea at his fingers’ ends. “Mebbe he’s chasin’ us around fer wrongly accusin’ him. They do that sometimes, you know. He’s probably dead an’ that’s his sperrit, ha’ntin’ us.”

“Oh, rot, Pete!” growled Code in his most forcible manner. “Come along now or you’ll be sidling into one of these doors and the Lass won’t get out of port for a week.”

“My soul an’ body! Look at that Frenchy. Biggest I ever saw, Code.”

They had returned to the sidewalk, and Pete forgot that he himself rose fully as high above the crowds as this stranger. In fact, nearly every one turned to take a look at the huge islander, who, in reality, stood six feet four, barefoot.

They were pushing down-street against the tide and making rather heavy going of it. Code maneuvered so as to pass well to leeward of the big man who, he could see plainly, was just tipsy. But somehow the eyes of the two giants met, and the Frenchman seemed to crush his way through the crowd in Ellinwood’s direction.

“Come on, Pete; get out of here before there’s any trouble,” commanded Code. He knew the mate’s weakness for fighting.

The big Frenchman, who wore tremendous earrings, a bright scarlet cap with a blue tuft, and a gay sash, lurched through the crowd and against Pete Ellinwood with a malice only too plain. But his effort was attended with failure. Not only did Pete stand like a rock, but he thrust the other violently back with his shoulder, so that he recoiled upon those behind him, earning their loud-voiced curses.

Mille tonnerres!” bellowed the Frenchman. “You insult me, cochon Canadien, Canadian pig! The half of sidewalk is mine, eh? You push me off, eh? You fight, eh?”

Code urged Ellinwood along and interceded personally, knowing that the big man would not touch him.

But the Frenchman would not be appeased. He was just drunk enough to become obsessed with the ugly idea that Pete had laid a trap to insult him, and, regardless of Code, kept after the mate.

By this time, of course, a huge crowd had gathered and was following Pete’s retreat, yelling to both men to fight it out. Many of the mob knew a few English words, and their taunts reached Ellinwood’s ears.

He and Code had not retreated a block before the mate suddenly swung around on his tormentors.

“I won’t stand for that, Code. Did you hear what that big devil called me?” he demanded.

“What do you care what he called you? Get along to the ship. What chance have we got with these men?” Code grabbed Pete’s arm and kept him moving away. Beneath his hand he could feel the muscles as hard as iron.

But every foot the Canadians retreated brought the big Frenchman nearer, bawling with triumph. At an opportune moment, so close was the press, he slipped his foot between Ellinwood’s legs and gave him a push. Pete stumbled, almost fell, and recovered himself, raging.

“Get back you!” he bawled, sending half a dozen men spinning with sweeps of his great arms. “I’ll fight this Frenchy. Just let me at him!”

Code saw the rage in Pete’s eyes and recognized that he could do nothing more to avert the trouble. His part would have to be confined to seeing that his man got a fair deal. He and Pete were unarmed except for their huge clasp-knives much better kept out of sight under the circumstances.

The crowd fell back, and the two giants stripped off their coats and shirts. The Frenchman danced up and down, beating his great fists together in a fine frenzy, but Pete, half-crouched, stepped forward on his toes, his hands hanging loose and ready at his sides.

Allez, donc!” It was the starting word, and Jean leaped in. Pete met him with a crashing right to the ribs and dodged out of reach of the clutching hands that reached for his throat. They circled around a moment and again the Frenchman came, this time in one great leap.

On the instant Ellinwood jumped in to meet him. There was a swift flying of arms, a pounding of the great fists, and Pete suddenly shot back from the melee and landed on his back in the dirt. One of the Frenchman’s great swings had landed. But he was up in an instant and went after his opponent again.

Jean saw now that he had another man to deal with unlike a Frenchman, an Anglo-Saxon cannot fight without sufficient provocation. Now all the battle was aroused in Ellinwood, for aside from the shame of his downfall, the crowd was yelling at the top of its voice. Jean began to run away, circling round and round the ring of spectators, Pete after him.

Suddenly he made a stand, but the mate was ready for him. Dodging the straight left, Pete hurled himself forward and seized the burly Frenchman in his arms. Then, with a tug and a wrench, as though he were uprooting a tree, he lifted his opponent and crashed him down to the earth.

Jean, stunned, and with a broken arm, sought to get up. He gained his feet and, game to the last, staggered toward Ellinwood. Pete started to run in again, but some one on the edge of the crowd thrust a foot out and the big islander stumbled.

Code saw the man who interfered, and, his blood boiling, leaped for him. At the same instant there came a cry of “Police! Police!” But Code did not hesitate. He plunged into the crowd after his man and, in an instant, found himself surrounded and fighting the whole mob.

For a moment it lasted. There was a rain of heavy blows that blinded him, and then something that was hard and dull struck him on the head. Everything began to whirl, and he found he could not lift his arms. Dimly he heard a voice near him shout: “This way!” in English and felt himself gathered up by men and borne swiftly away.

Then consciousness left him.