Much sooner than he had ever dreamed would be the case, Alec had an
opportunity to become an oyster merchant. But it was a sort of oyster
business very different from any he had thought of. It was no trouble at
all for Alec to secure the shells of additional shippers, for by this
time Alec was favorably known to almost everybody at Bivalve. The story
of his rescue of Hawley had drawn attention to him. And his modest
demeanor, his cheerful way, and his general spirit of helpfulness,
attracted every one who met him.

But more powerful than these influences was the fact that Captain
Rumford stood behind him. If the captain said a thing would be done,
every man at the oyster piers knew it would be done. And the captain was
glad to speak to any fellow shipper whose shells Alec wanted, and
guarantee their removal. Alec secured those from neighboring piers, so
as to lessen the amount of work he would have to do. Nor was there much
difficulty about this. The oyster shippers generally had been so
dissatisfied with the uncertain manner of collecting shells that they
were ready to adopt almost any plan which promised real improvement. So
Alec speedily found himself with more shells engaged than he really knew
how to handle.

Naturally he did not get shells away from the old collectors without
gaining their enmity, too. They cursed him when they met him, and some
even threatened him. Alec paid little attention to them; but he was too
wise to disregard their threats altogether. He had had one experience
with an enemy that nearly cost him his life, and he did not propose to
be caught napping a second time. His work after dark made it especially
easy for any one to harm him who so chose. So Alec went about with both
eyes and both ears open.

One night he had finished collecting his shells and had just pulled into
his dumping-ground, when a dark form stepped out of the marsh reeds and
leaped aboard his boat. Instinctively Alec picked up his oar and
prepared to defend himself. When he saw that the man was Hawley, he
gripped the oar tighter than ever and made ready for a struggle. His
heart began to beat like a pneumatic riveter, but he stood firm, and
tried to appear unconcerned.

“Hello, youngster,” said the giant sailor, advancing a step toward him.
“You’re getting a lot of trade, I see.”

“Yes. More than I can handle.”

“Exactly what I reckoned,” replied Hawley. “Exactly what I reckoned.”

Alec wondered why, if the man intended harm to him, he did not attack
him at once. “He’s just waiting to take me off my guard,” he said to
himself. Aloud he said, “The oyster business is pretty slack just now,
and I can just manage to handle the shells. But I don’t know what I
would do if the shippers should have a rush of business. I guess I’d
have to have help or else quit the _Bertha B_.”

“Exactly what I reckoned,” said Hawley. “Exactly what I reckoned. And I
come to offer to help you.”

Alec nearly tumbled over backward in his astonishment. “I’d like to have
your help all right,” he said, still eyeing Hawley distrustfully, “but I
don’t know how I’d pay you.”

“Who said anything about pay?” asked Hawley.

“I don’t exactly understand what you mean,” said Alec. “Of course you’d
want pay if you helped me, and, of course, I would expect to pay you.
Nobody can afford to work for nothing.”

“Exactly what I reckon,” said Hawley. “But I’ve had my pay already. Now
I want to earn it.”

“I don’t understand you.”

The big oysterman stepped forward. Alec retreated and raised his oar.
“Just stand back, will you?” he said.

“I don’t blame you a bit for feelin’ that way, seein’ as how you never
had no reason to trust me,” replied Hawley, and he went back to the very
bow of the boat. “But I don’t mean you no harm, lad. I come to help
you. Jim Hawley ain’t no copperhead, even if you do have reason to think
so. That wasn’t Jim Hawley that chucked you into the river. It was old
John Barleycorn. Jim Hawley ain’t that sort of a feller. I’m done with
John Barleycorn, and I want you to know the real Jim Hawley. I want to
help you and it won’t cost you a cent.”

Alec was too much astonished for words. “It’s mighty kind of you,” he
said, “but I couldn’t accept any man’s services without paying him for

“Come, come, lad, don’t be foolish,” urged the big sailor. “You need me
a whole lot more than you think.”

“I’d like to know how.”

“Well, I didn’t want to tell you this, lad. But I’d feel safer about you
if I was around. You know them shell collectors you been gettin’ shells
away from don’t love you any too much, and I don’t like to think of you
out here alone in the dark. It’s been worryin’ me.”

“Worrying you! Why should you worry about me?”

Big Hawley hung his head. “I ain’t had a decent night’s sleep since I
sobered up,” he said. “Cap’n Bagley told me what an old villain I’d been
and how fine you was about it, not wantin’ me put in jail, and I says to
myself, says I, ‘If ever you touch another drop of booze, you’re a worse
scoundrel than even Bagley takes you for; and he thinks you’re next to
the devil.’ So I quit drinkin’. Ain’t touched a drop since, and ain’t
never goin’ to touch another. But that didn’t make it right with you.
You done the finest thing I ever heard of when you went overboard after
me, and I just can’t sleep for worryin’ how I’m goin’ to make it up to
you. So you see you’ve just got to let me help you with them shells.”

Hawley’s voice had grown husky and his eyes were actually moist before
he stopped talking. There was no doubting his sincerity.

Alec threw down his oar and sprang toward him. “Don’t you bother about
that another minute,” he said, holding out his hand, which the sailor
pressed warmly. “I’m glad you are no longer angry at me, and that you
want to be my friend. And if you really want to help with the shells,
I’ll be more than glad. But you must let me pay you when I am able.”

“Now don’t you ever say another word to me about pay,” said Hawley,
clearing his throat and seizing an oyster shovel. “We’ll just consider
the matter settled. And I’m much obliged to you. You’ve done me a mighty
good turn. I won’t have to worry no more about you out here in the
darkness all alone.” And he fell to shoveling oysters as fast as he

The winter continued open, and the fleet worked with unusual regularity.
There were not many days when the weather was too rough for dredging. So
the shells accumulated fast. In a little while Alec was able to buy his
portable motor. With the aid of that and with Hawley to assist him, he
could care for his shells in a very short time.

“It’s almost too bad we don’t have more shells,” he said to Hawley one

“Git ’em!” said the sailor. “You kin. There ain’t anybody round here
won’t give ’em to you if you ask, I reckon.”

“I was willing to take old Pete’s shells and a few more,” said Alec,
“but I wouldn’t want to put the other collectors out of business.”

“What’s that to you? They’d put you out of business in a minute if they

“Just the same, it doesn’t seem fair. I can’t adopt their standards.
I’ve got to stick to my own.”

Before many days elapsed, Alec had another opportunity to decide what
standards he would follow. One of his competitors came to him and
offered to pay him twenty-five cents a basket for the rattlers in his
pile of shells.

“You’d be getting eight times as much for the rattlers as you would for
the shells, and there’d likely be a basket or two a night in such a big
pile of shells. That’d be twenty-five to fifty cents clear velvet every

Alec was suspicious. “What do you want them for?” he asked.

“To eat, of course. We can’t make enough collecting shells to buy good
oysters. These is all right, if we eat ’em soon.”

“I’ll think it over,” said Alec.

When the man was gone, he saw at once the absurdity of the thing. There
were only two or three shell collectors to eat the oysters. Only one of
them had a family. With Alec’s shells they would have access to all the
shells in the place. If they could get a basket or two of rattlers from
his shells, there must be a number of baskets among all the
shells–several bushels in fact. It wouldn’t be possible for them to eat
all the oysters.

“There’s something crooked about this,” said Alec. Then he thought of
what Hawley had told him of the enmity the other shell collectors had
toward him. He decided to ask Hawley about the matter.

“Jim,” he said, when he next saw his helper, “old Wallace offered to buy
all our rattlers. Said he wanted them to eat. What do you suppose he’s
up to?”

“Don’t know,” replied Hawley, frowning, “but you can bet it ain’t for no
good purpose. Why, that old rip’s so crooked he can’t even walk
straight. You just leave it to me. I’ll find out about it.”

Three nights later Hawley sought out Alec after the latter had tumbled
into his bed on the _Bertha B_. “I know what them rips is up to,” he
said. “They’re openin’ their rattlers, treatin’ ’em over-night in soda,
and sellin’ ’em in cans.”

“They are!” cried Alec. “Selling them as Maurice River Cove oysters?”

“Surest thing you know.”

“If they do much of that, they’ll knock the oyster business into a
cocked hat. Anybody that eats one of those things and sees the label
‘Maurice River Cove Oysters,’ will never want to taste another.”

“Exactly what I reckon,” said big Jim Hawley.

“I’ll tell the shipper about this at once,” said Alec.

He glanced at his watch. “Exactly nine-thirty,” he said. “The captain
will be listening to Pittsburgh if he’s at home.”

He turned to his wireless telephone, threw over his switch, and began to
speak. “3ADH calling 3ARM,” he called. There was no reply. Again he

Then his receivers began to vibrate. “3ARM answering 3ADH,” came the

“Hello, Captain,” he telephoned. “This is Alec. We have found something
going on here that I want to tell you about at once. Can you come down?”

“Yes. Are you in a hurry?”

“No. Any time to-night will do.”

“I’ll come just as soon as this music’s done. Good-bye.”

An hour later the shipper, the skipper, Alec, and big Hawley were in
conference in the cabin of the _Bertha B_. Next day Captain Rumford
called a meeting of all the shippers at Bivalve. The conference decided
to put an end at once to the existing system of shell collecting.

“We’ve had enough of this haphazard method,” said one shipper. “Let us
give all our shells to one man and hold him responsible for their proper
collection and disposition. Then we shall not have to worry about our
scows any longer, and there won’t be any of this crooked work going on
to ruin the oyster business. It seems to me we couldn’t do better than
to turn the whole shell business over to that young chap of Cap’n
Rumford’s. He’s a clean, energetic boy, and he’ll take care of the
shells right. With all our shells to handle, there will be enough in it
for him to give his entire time to it.”

“And what do you think I’m going to do if you take away the best young
fellow I ever had in my employ?” asked Captain Rumford.

“That’s your lookout,” said his fellow shipper. “The oystermen’s
association is just as keen to get a good man as you are to keep one.”

Captain Rumford himself laid the proposition before Alec. The latter was
dumfounded. “Give me twenty-four hours to think it over,” he said.

It was a crisis in Alec’s life. It was an opportunity and yet it was not
the sort of opportunity he welcomed. It would take him away from the
direct line he had marked out for himself. Then, too, if he became a
shell collector only, he would have no money coming to him until the
spring planting season, and he did not see how he could get along
without some regular income. Finally, he was reluctant to leave the
employ of Captain Rumford.

He had almost decided not to accept the offer, when he thought of
Hawley. “Why, he could collect most of those shells himself, if he
worked at it all day,” thought Alec. “He can get around so fast with the
little motor that he might be able to do it all himself. Now, how can we
arrange it?”

He thought over the matter a long time. Before he fell asleep he had
decided what to do. Next morning he sought Hawley on the latter’s ship
the instant he was up.

“Jim,” he said, “the oystermen want me to take all their shells. I’d
like to do it. There would be a nice profit in it, but I can’t very well
give up my job on the _Bertha B_ and go to collecting shells on nothing
a week. Now if you would go into partnership with me—-”

“On nothing a week?” laughed the big sailor.

Alec joined in the laugh. “Looks as though that’s what I want, doesn’t
it? But listen, Jim. Here’s my plan. You stay here and handle the
shells. I will be on hand to help you every afternoon. With the motor in
our boat we can handle them all easily. I’ll draw my pay on the _Bertha
B_ and give you ten dollars each week. That isn’t much, but it will keep
you until we sell the shells. Then you can repay me from your share of
the proceeds. I’ve been figuring out how many we’ll have, and there’ll
be enough to bring us both a good profit for all the time and money we
put into it. What do you think of it?”

“If it will help you,” said Hawley, “you just bet I’ll do it.”

“It’ll help us both.”

“Then that settles it. Here’s to the new firm, ‘Cunningham and Hawley,
shell merchants.'”

And turning to the table, Hawley poured out drinks for them both. But it
was only coffee.

“Shall we have a sign painted?” he laughed.

Now that Alec and Jim got all the shells from all the shippers, their
pile grew with unbelievable rapidity. Although the number of shells had
increased so greatly, yet big Jim Hawley was almost always able to
handle the entire day’s harvest himself. The powerful little motor shot
his boat from point to point with great speed; and the sailor himself
was so strong and powerful that he could shovel the shells out of his
boat while most other men would have been thinking about it. Thus it
happened that Alec seldom had to help his partner, when the _Bertha B_
made fast for the day.

But Alec was not one to waste his time. Whenever Jim did not need him,
Alec hustled up to the shipper’s office and helped with the clerical
work. To his delight, Captain Rumford finally procured a typewriter, the
rubber stamps, and some other office equipment suggested by Alec. With
the aid of these and the assistance Alec was able to give him, Captain
Rumford now easily performed the office work that had previously been
such a burden to him. When Sailor Hawley saw the situation, and realised
that Alec had a good chance for promotion if he could be regular with
the office work, he told Alec that the shell collections had fallen off
so much he would not need any help during the remainder of the season.
Perhaps he told the truth.

Alec, at any rate, now felt free to give Captain Rumford his time every
afternoon. Usually the skipper was able to set Alec ashore by half-past
three o’clock. In the two hours that remained before Captain Rumford
drove home, the captain dictated answers to all his letters, Alec taking
the dictation direct on his typewriter. He had to do this, as he had
never studied stenography. Often, now, he wished he had. But he had
never foreseen the need of it. His deficiency taught him a good lesson,

“It just goes to show that you never can tell what will come useful,”
said Alec. “I’ll worry along all right without stenography, I suppose,
but you can just bet that in this oyster game I’m going to know
everything I possibly can pick up that has the slightest bearing on the
business. I’m not going to wake up after I’m a shipper and find that
there is something about my business that I don’t know.”

As the winter wore on, work declined at the oyster piers and men were
laid off. Many beds had long ago been dredged clean of their oysters.
Boat after boat was made fast for the season. The fleet dwindled almost
daily in numbers. Then there came periods of very rough weather, when
all the boats remained at their piers. Those days Alec spent wholly in
the office. So his pay continued without interruption. Better still it
increased. As a deck-hand he had been getting $17.50 a week. The shipper
increased his stipend to $20 a week.

But better even than the increase in pay was the opportunity that came
to visit the captain’s home. For often at the week-end Alec was now
asked to accompany the shipper home. Usually he merely spent the evening
there, returning to Bivalve by trolley. But once in a while he was asked
to spend Sunday with the Rumfords. Elsa, of course, hailed his visits
with delight. And it was not long before Mrs. Rumford was almost as glad
to see Alec as her daughter was. About the only welcome Alec ever got
from the head of the house was the statement the latter made, when he
ushered the lad in at the door, “Well, mother, here’s this Alec
Cunningham again. He pestered me so to bring him along that I hadn’t the
heart to refuse.”

Of course, there wasn’t a word of truth in it, but just the same it
always embarrassed Alec a little bit, much to the delight of Elsa.
Probably that was why the shipper teased the lad, for Elsa was the apple
of his eye. To please her, he would have done things far more foreign to
his nature than to crack a joke.

Probably the reason Elsa was so fond of Alec was because he treated her
as an absolute equal. There was no hint of condescension on his part
when he talked with her, no suggestion of superiority. He never
intimated that because she was a girl she shouldn’t do this or that
thing that he did. Like the majority of American girls of to-day, Elsa
was independent, sensible, thoughtful, and able. So her tastes and
desires were remarkably like those of any other normal person of her age
and training. She liked sailing, tennis, swimming, basket-ball,
motoring, camping, and similar sports, and was quite as intelligent
about them as most boys would have been. With similar likes himself,
Alec understood her feelings exactly and treated her much as he would
have treated a boy chum of his own age. Though he was doubtless a little
more chivalrous toward her than he would have been to one of his boy
friends, he did not carry his chivalry to the point where it interfered
with their friendship. So the two became very good chums, indeed. It was
a matter of delight to them both that Alec was able to help her with
many a knotty point in her studies. In every way the two seemed
fashioned to be the best of friends.

To Alec the privilege of coming to the captain’s house meant more than
he could have told. Alec and his father had lived with a very estimable
family. Here at Bivalve he missed greatly that home influence. His
companions on the _Bertha B_ and at the piers he had come to esteem
greatly; yet they were mostly rough workingmen, uncouth in speech and
manner, though pure gold at heart. Alec was at an age and in a situation
when he especially needed the refining influence of a good home. He got
it in Captain Rumford’s home.

Just why Captain Rumford chose to take Alec to his home, the
inscrutable oyster shipper never said. But he never did anything without
a reason. Outsiders who knew about the matter attached far more
significance to it than Alec possibly could. Also they understood much
better than Alec did how fortunate a lad he was. With the leading oyster
shipper at Bivalve back of him, Alec’s future was already secure if he
chose to become an oyster-planter himself.

Alec, fortunately, never once thought of the matter in that light. He
didn’t even know that the shipper was behind him. In his own mind he was
simply an employee whom the shipper, for some reason or other, had come
to like. And he meant to do everything in his power to retain Captain
Rumford’s good-will.

It pleased Alec immensely that he had been able to help his benefactor
so much with his office work. The changes that had been made seemed to
lighten the work daily. Yet the changes already made were not all that
Alec hoped to make. He wanted a better system of filing and keeping
records. Every time he looked at the dusty pigeonholes in the old rack
above the captain’s desk, each stuffed full of miscellaneous contents,
his fingers itched to tear the whole thing out and install some modern
filing cases. But he knew he must bide his time for that.

Very late in the winter, or very early in the spring, when the oyster
business was getting toward its lowest ebb and the office work was
light, Alec asked permission to clean the office. The shipper looked at
him in amazement.

“What for?” he asked.

“Perhaps we could arrange things in a way that would expedite our work,”
replied Alec, watching his boss out of the corner of his eye.

“Um!” grunted the shipper. “It’s likely! Why, I’ve done business with
this office just as it is for more than thirty years and never found it
necessary yet to change things.”

But in the end, he consented. Alec moved their two desks somewhat, so as
to get better light on them and shifted a few other things. But the main
thing he wanted to do was to clear out those dusty old pigeonholes, and
get the contents arranged better. So he began to take the contents from
pigeonhole after pigeonhole, laying the things he took out in orderly
little piles and trying to rearrange and classify them. But when he
reached the second row in the rack, he suddenly lost all interest in his
work. Out of the pigeonhole came a familiar-looking pamphlet, like
dozens of government bulletins Alec had seen at the high school in
Central City. Alec was about to drop it on the desk when the title
caught his eye. It was “Aids to Successful Oyster-Culture.” The bulletin
had recently been issued by the New Jersey Experiment station.

“Where did you get this?” cried Alec, all afire with interest.

“What?” said the shipper, glancing up from his work. Then, after seeing
what it was, “Oh! That! Why, that’s something the state got out.
Somebody sent me a copy.”

“Is it interesting?” asked Alec.

“To tell the truth, I never had time to read it. I stuck it in that
pigeonhole and there it’s been ever since.”

Alec looked aghast. “Never read it!” he cried. “Would you be willing to
lend it to me? I’ll take good care of it and be sure to return it.”

“Take it and keep it. I don’t want it.”

Alec folded the bulletin and placed it in his pocket as though it were
rarest treasure. Into his mind flashed the Master’s words: “The stone
which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.”

“Who knows?” he said to himself, “but this may be the very corner-stone
for the structure I intend to build? It may be the very thing I have
been searching for. My entire future may depend upon what I read in this

Even a cursory examination of the bulletin told Alec he was right in
thinking that the little pamphlet held the secrets for which he had been
searching. Here, in this unconsidered little publication that had been
consigned to the oblivion of a dusty pigeonhole by a man who was
beginning to fall behind the times, was an open sesame to the
treasure-house of the deep. Alec wondered how many more of these
bulletins were likewise resting in dusty pigeonholes. He was sure there
must be many of them similarly tucked out of sight, for the bulletin,
which was the very first of a series planned by the state to set forth
the knowledge of the oyster that had been accumulated by the scientists
of the world, plainly said that the position of the oyster-planter of
to-day was very similar to that of the land farmer of fifty years ago,
before the application of scientific methods to agriculture. If that
were true, Alec knew that little heed would be given to the publication
by many of the oyster-planters. They were too old to change. The
situation gave him the opportunity to become a pioneer and, he firmly
believed, to reap the rewards of the pioneer.

The quality that distinguished Alec’s mind from the mind of the average
lad of his years was that of understanding or comprehension. At school
he had never won unusual grades; yet he had been an unusual student.
Indeed, it would have been remarkable had a lad of his wide interests
gained high marks. His participation in athletics, his accomplishments
with the wireless, his devotion to nature and out-of-door pleasures, and
his efforts along many lines not directly connected with his studies,
practically precluded the possibility of his being an honor student. Yet
no winner of high grades ever understood what he studied better than
Alec comprehended the work he covered. Very early Alec had imbibed the
idea that the purpose of schooling is understanding, not grades, ability
to accomplish, and not diplomas. So he had been more or less indifferent
to the marks he received, but very particular to grasp what he studied.
To an unusual degree he had gained the essence of education, which is
the ability to think. He saw facts as they were, he drew correct
deductions from these facts, and he consequently came to truthful

Nothing whatever could have meant as much to Alec, situated as he now
was, as did this double ability to understand facts and to draw right
conclusions from them. He was just starting his life-work. He was
building his career. He was erecting a structure to last a lifetime and
perhaps many generations longer. He must fight for all he got. There
would be few who cared whether he built well or poorly, and fewer still
to help him. His alone was the responsibility for the quality of the job
he was doing. What he had told Captain Rumford was true: he wanted to
know, not only about what oyster-planters had done and were doing, but
also what they would be doing in future. Alec had always been like that.
He had always wanted to know the whole truth.

As he read the bulletin in his hands, he told himself that he was a
fortunate lad, indeed. If oyster-farming is to-day just where land
farming was half a century ago, he told himself, he had become an
oysterman at exactly the right moment. He had had a great deal more
schooling than most of the men now in the business. He could learn the
truth more easily. He had the advantage of knowing nothing whatever
about the oyster business, so that he had no prejudices to hamper him,
no preconceived ideas to hold him back. He was free to learn the truth,
and when he found it, to act accordingly. He could make all his plans
upon a scientific basis. He could be a pioneer in scientific
oyster-culture. And like the farmers who sprayed their fruit-trees while
their neighbors laughed at them, and the dairymen who began raising
blooded stock while their neighbors ridiculed them, he would reap his
reward, the same as those intelligent orchardists and cattlemen had

Perhaps Alec did not actually think the situation out in such detail,
but the underlying idea he felt very strongly. He had come into the
oyster business at a time when it was about to undergo a change. Not all
the oyster-shippers, he felt sure, would toss aside this valuable
compendium of information as thoughtlessly as Captain Rumford had done.
Few of them, perhaps, were as well qualified as he himself was to carry
out the suggestions made in the book; for he had studied biology. He
knew how to use the microscope. He was familiar with the work that would
be required of the scientific oysterman as suggested by the bulletin.

For this marvelous little publication told him, not only about the
life-history and habits of oysters, but also how and where they could
best be raised. An open sesame, indeed, was this book. For Alec had long
understood that the present method of oyster-culture was largely a game
of blind man’s buff.

When he had asked the skipper how the oystermen knew good grounds from
poor ones, the captain had replied, “They don’t. All they can do is to
shell ’em and see if they get a set.”

That was the doctrine and belief of an experienced and able captain of
an oyster-boat. Yet here in his very hands Alec had proof that an
intelligent person could discover where the good grounds were, easily
and cheaply. It wasn’t necessary to own a ship and buy thousands of
bushels of shells and employ expensive help to spread them in order to
find out whether a given place would make good grounds or not. With very
little equipment Alec knew he could test the matter as well as anybody.
He almost cried aloud with sheer joy. For though the planted beds
covered 30,000 acres, and doubtless included many and perhaps most of
the good grounds, Alec did not doubt that there still remained unstaked
areas that would make as good oyster-beds as any already “stuck up.” His
job was to find them while he was getting together the money to buy his

When Alec had gone hastily through the bulletin once, he again began to
read it, this time slowly and painstakingly. He found that Skipper
Bagley’s assertion that one oyster produces millions of little oysters
was not only true, but was almost an understatement, so incredible was
the actual number, estimated by the scientists at sixteen to sixty
millions, depending upon the size, age, and vigor of the spawning
oyster. And it was equally true, as the skipper had said, that one could
not see newly-formed oysters with the naked eye; for, even at two weeks
of age, when they are about ready to attach to something, they were
still scarcely visible.

What fairly astounded Alec was the fact that each tiny oyster larva has
a foot, which is later absorbed into the body when there is no longer
need for it. For, contrary to what the skipper had told him, the oyster
fry not only have the power to move about in the water, but they do not
die at once if they sink to the bottom and find no suitable place of
attachment. With its tiny foot, each microscopic oyster is able to move
about on the bottom, and does move about, a few inches at a time,
seeking a place of attachment. It has other methods of locomotion as
well. Hair-like growths that act like propellers, give it the power to
move slowly through the waters. Thus it creeps and swims, searching here
and there until it finds the resting-place it is after. Then it makes
fast to the place selected, and its shell rapidly enlarges. In ten
hours’ time it has become as large as a grain of pepper.

And the bulletin’s suggestions as to shelling oyster-beds, Alec noted,
were directly at variance with established practices. For Alec knew that
ordinarily the shells were spread broadcast, in an effort to cover as
much of the bottom as possible, whereas the bulletin advised the
planting of shells in windrows, placed transversely to the current, and
piled to the depth of ten inches or even a foot, so as to afford more
exposed surfaces than could be offered by shells broadcasted and lying
flat in the mud. For now Alec learned, to his astonishment, that the
tiny oysters do not necessarily drop downward in their search for a
place of attachment, but also rise upward. And since sediment does not
collect to any great extent on the under surface of bodies held in the
water, the under sides will afford the cleaner places of attachment. In
proof of this, the bulletin showed several shells that had been
suspended in the water for five days during the spawning season. Though
they were clean when put into the water, enough sediment had collected
in that short time to prevent the attachment of a single spat to their
upper surfaces, while one shell alone had seventy-three spats attached
to its under surface at the end of five days.

“Why, that’s just common-sense,” cried Alec. “Of course an under surface
stays cleaner in the water than an upper surface. Anybody knows that.
And shells heaped in windrows will present a thousand times as many
under surfaces as shells thrown flat in the mud. You bet I won’t forget

There were many other things that astonished Alec. He learned that
spawning activities are controlled almost wholly by temperature, oysters
never spawning before the water reaches a temperature of at least 68
degrees and generally 70 degrees, while spawning activity increases with
the increase in the temperature of the water. Alec saw at once that
there might thus be great seasonal variation in the amount of spawn
produced, and that a cold, cloudy summer might result in little or no
oyster fry being spawned, while a hot, cloudless spring and summer,
particularly if the wind did not stir up the water too much, would
almost certainly result in a tremendous output of oyster larvæ.

“Looks to me,” said Alec, with characteristic insight, “as though it
wasn’t worth going to the expense of shelling a bed if it happens to be
a very cold year,” and he was pleased when in reading further he found
that the bulletin confirmed his judgment.

Furthermore Alec knew that deep water would remain cold while shallow
water grew warm. And as the oyster remains practically at the
temperature of the water surrounding it, he saw that here was another
problem to be considered in the greatest of all the problems that he
believed lay before him. That was the problem of finding a good oyster
ground. For Alec had no hope of ever being able to buy a ground already
established. Within a very few days such an established bed had changed
hands, and the price paid by the purchaser was $25,000. Of course this
was a big bed, but Alec knew that any productive bed at all would
command a high price. What he must do when he became a planter was to
stake out new grounds that he could get from the state merely for the
annual rental of seventy-five cents an acre.

To procure such a bed was a simple enough matter, but to procure a bed
that would be productive, where the planting of shells would result in a
good set of spat, was quite another matter. As the skipper had told him,
it was commonly believed that all the good beds had already been “stuck
up.” That fact had been the most discouraging thing Alec had had to
face, as he thought over his plans for the future. But now light was
coming to him. One of the factors he must consider in the selection of
his grounds was water temperature. Depth was an important factor, and
so, too, was the movement of the water, for turbulent water meant cold
water, while still water meant warm water.

When Alec studied that portion of his book that dealt with tides and
currents, he fairly hugged himself for joy. Now he knew how to determine
the other factors in the problem of locating his beds. For the bulletin
told him that with the ebb and flow of the tide certain main currents
are produced over an oyster-bed which are quite definite in direction
and which vary but little from year to year, while the configuration of
the shore and the bottom produces smaller currents and eddies in
conjunction with these main currents. And these currents would have very
much to do with the matter of locating an oyster-bed.

For an abrupt ridge, or raised area of the bottom, will produce one or
more eddies, thus resulting in a region of slack water. Along the margin
of every well defined channel, areas occur where the water lags behind
that in the channel itself. And these areas are often so sharply marked
off that one may follow them without difficulty for miles, owing to the
appearance of the water. “Any one who has noticed these ‘slicks,'” said
the bulletin, “has noticed the foam and surface debris which collect

Many a time had Alec noted these slick stretches of water and wondered
at them, seeking a reason for their smoothness. Here it was explained.
But the full connection between a slick and an oyster-bed below it was
not apparent to Alec until he read, “The oyster larvæ, though
free-swimming, move so slowly that they are carried about by the
currents much as grains of sand would be. They, therefore, tend to
collect in these regions of slicks and eddies, along with a host of
other microscopic plants and animals. In such places there occurs a
heavier set of spat than elsewhere in that neighborhood. Find the oyster
larvæ in the water, then get your shells under them.”

There was the secret Alec had been searching for. Now he knew how to go
about the selection of his oyster grounds. “Find the oyster larvæ in the
water and get your shells under them.”

One difficulty alone seemed to present itself. As a deck-hand he would
be busy until the end of June, and by that time he feared spawning might
be nearly ended. How could he do his duty to his employer and at the
same time study the waters in the oyster-beds as he saw he would need to
do? But he was reassured as he read further and found that in the
Delaware Bay and other deep waters in New Jersey, spawning is a more or
less continuous process, running from the first of July to the latter
part of August.

Not even on that first morning at Bivalve, when he suddenly found his
condition changed from that of a shivering, hungry, penniless lad, to a
situation where he had a warm place to sleep, plenty of good food to
eat, and a generous wage coming to him daily, did Alec feel more elated
than he felt now. He had had a very rough experience. He had gone
through an unforeseen crisis, when all the supports had been knocked
from under his young life and he had suddenly had to stand wholly on
his own feet. At first he had had to choose what he would do merely to
exist. Later he had had to decide what he meant to make of himself. Even
when chance had put him on shipboard, and circumstances had almost
seemed to drive him to choose oystering as his calling, the situation
had seemed hopelessly difficult, so much of both knowledge and capital
were necessary, and both seemed so hard to acquire. And now, here in his
very hand, he suddenly found the map that showed him his path clear and

No wonder he cried aloud for joy. Now he knew, not only where he was
going, but also how to get there. To be sure, it would take him years to
attain his goal. But that would have been true, no matter what he
attempted. There was nothing discouraging about that. There was nothing
discouraging about any aspect of his situation. He had a steady job and
was saving money, even though half his wages went to support his partner
in the shell business. The shell venture was certain to net him a
generous return. With his father’s gravestone paid for, Alec had
practically no expenses, save for clothes and incidentals, and these
were small enough. He had no time for nightly diversion at some
neighboring town, even had he desired it, and he used neither tobacco
nor strong drink. The clothes he had worn upon his arrival were of good
cut and material. He had had them cleaned and pressed when he got
rougher garments for his daily labor, and these good clothes would last
for a long time. So he could save a goodly sum each week even on half of
his wages. If he continued to work hard and take advantage of every
opportunity that offered, he knew his income was certain to increase and
his savings multiply accordingly. No wonder Alec felt jubilant. No
wonder he felt as though he were already standing at the wheel of _Old
Honesty_, the ship of his dreams. No wonder, either, that he could not
discern the rocks that rose ahead with evil portent.