Day after day Alec toiled at his self-appointed task. Under the broiling
sun and when cold rains were falling, with the wind whistling through
the _Osprey’s_ rigging and in periods of calm, he was daily to be seen
on the oyster grounds in his little boat. For whole days at a time he
did nothing but take soundings and record the results. Other days he
spent studying the currents, watching the tides, searching the face of
the water diligently. At other times he gathered water samples here,
there, yonder, everywhere, and followed that task by the more trying
labor at the microscope. With every sample of water he analyzed, and
every survey he made of the currents, he became more and more certain
that he had found the thing for which he was searching. He knew exactly
where he would put his oyster-beds. He would lease as much land along
the edge of the depression in the bottom and immediately adjoining the
land already staked as he could handle. By taking a long and narrow
strip, he would be certain to have his grounds in the very heart of the
No sooner had Alec made up his mind than he laid the matter before
Captain Rumford. “I want to lease one hundred acres right here,” he
said, pointing to a spot he had marked on his chart of the oyster-beds.
The shipper frowned. “What do you want of oyster-beds now?” he demanded.
“You have no way to work them, and the tax on them will eat up your
savings. You’ll have to pay $75 a year rental, besides the cost of
surveying and staking your bed. The sum you’ll pay out, just to hold
that ground while you’re earning your equipment, would go a long way
toward paying for your boat. Besides, I don’t like grounds so far out.
The water’s too deep. Oysters ought to be planted in shallow water.”
“But you have some beds in deep water yourself, Captain,” urged Alec.
“None of them is much good.”
“Perhaps they aren’t out far enough.”
“Nonsense. Shallow water’s the only good place for an oyster-bed.
There’s lots of beds out in deep water, but that’s because all the
grounds near shore had already been staked out and their owners had to
take deep-water grounds or none at all. But it’s no place for oysters.”
“There’s Hardy’s bed,” urged Alec. “That’s as far out as any of them and
it’s a good bed. With proper care it would be one of the best. I’ve been
examining the water there, and it’s full of spat.”
“Nonsense, all nonsense,” said the shipper impatiently. “Elsa has been
pumping me full of rubbish about what you are doing. As though you
could tell anything about an oyster ground by looking at a few drops of
water through a microscope. This foolishness is the only thing I ever
saw in you that I don’t like. If only you’d drop it and go to work on my
boats as I want you to, you’d get on fast. As for your leasing one
hundred acres of oyster-land, and away out there at that, why, it’s not
to be thought of. It’s ridiculous.”
Alec looked very sober. From the quarter where he had expected help,
came sudden opposition. It almost made him hesitate. “Captain Rumford,”
he said, “I’m mighty sorry we don’t see things alike. I know it seems
foolish for a lad of my years to be telling an old oyster captain like
yourself anything about oystering. But I have to live up to my lights
just as much as you have to live up to yours. I believe I’m right. When
I’m done with this work I’ll know whether I’m right or wrong. If I’m
right, then I’ve found one of the best locations in the entire oyster
region to start a new bed. I know it will cost me a lot to carry that
bed. But I’m so sure I’m right that I’m willing to risk the money. I’m
willing to bet on myself, if you want to put it that way. That matter is
settled. The question is, Will you help me get the land I want, or must
I ask somebody else to help me?”
“Well, I admire your pluck, anyway, youngster. If your judgment was half
as good, you’d be a winner sure. Since you’re so dead set on having
those grounds, I’ll have to help you get them, of course. You’re not of
age, are you?”
“No, sir. I was nineteen soon after I came to Bivalve. It won’t be so
long now until I am twenty.”
“You have no guardian?”
“No. But I’ve been told I need one.” Alec grinned. “Elsa says so.”
“Well, she’s right for once. I’ll have to lease these lands in my own
name and then transfer them to you later.”
“That will be all right.”
“Eh? You trust the old man, do you? Haven’t you learned that you can’t
trust everybody? You’ve had experiences enough here to teach you that
lesson pretty well. Suppose your bed _should_ turn out to be worth
something, and I decided not to hand it over to you? Had you thought of
that possibility, lad?”
“Captain Rumford,” said Alec, “there isn’t anything I’ve learned better
than the lesson that there are some people I can’t trust. And while I’ve
been learning that, I’ve found that there are some I can.”
“Thank you, lad,” said the shipper, evidently deeply touched. “Thank
you. You can put your mind at rest about your oyster grounds. I’ll get
them and I’ll give you a paper showing that I only hold them in trust
for you. And I’ll do more. If you don’t have the money to pay the
expenses, I’ll lend it to you and you can pay me whenever you can. But
that’s because I have confidence in you and not in your oyster grounds.”
“Thank you, Captain,” said Alec. “It won’t be necessary. I have the
The captain turned away and went to his desk to make out his application
for the desired grounds. But all the way to his chair he kept muttering,
“The little fool. He’s just throwing his money away.”
Having decided the question of his own grounds, Alec turned his
attention to the shipper’s beds. He spent several days sounding them and
studying the water above them. Mostly the captain’s beds were well in
shore. These he had inherited from his father, who had begun oystering
before the shipper was born. These beds were usually very productive. In
deep water the captain also owned considerable holdings that he had
acquired with profits derived from the beds he had inherited. But none
of these had ever proved to be very productive. There was never any very
great set of spat in them, and unless they were planted with
seed-oysters it hardly paid to dredge them. But, of course, the captain
always put seed in all his beds and so he had steadily made some money
from them. When Alec analyzed the larval content of the shipper’s
various beds under the microscope, he found that the shallow water was
very rich in spat. The contour of the shore made a vast eddy where these
beds lay. The beds farther out were located in the strong current, with
not the slightest suspicion of a slick or an eddy near them.
When Alec had concluded his examination of the shipper’s beds, he went
directly to their owner, though he made a wry face as he thought of what
was probably before him.
“Captain Rumford,” he said, “I’ve been working out in your beds for
several days. Your shallow water beds are very fine grounds, but—-”
“Of course they are. Of course they are. Shallow water’s the only proper
place for an oyster-bed.”
“Your other beds, I was going to say,” went on Alec, “are not nearly so
“Of course not. Of course not. What are you telling me all this for?
Think I don’t know it?”
“I don’t believe you’ll ever get a big set of spat in those outside
beds,” went on Alec. “I don’t believe you’d get enough of a set to pay
for shelling the grounds.”
“Well, well,” said the shipper rather testily, “is this supposed to be
news to me?”
“I was going to say,” went on Alec, choking down a feeling of
resentment, “that if you would sell those beds and buy Hardy’s bed,
you’d make a profitable deal. I’d be willing to wager that you’d get as
many oysters from spat in Hardy’s bed as you would from the seed you
planted. You’d get a tremendous catch every year.”
“Fiddlesticks! I never heard of such a thing in a deep-water bed.”
“But, Captain Rumford,” protested Alec, “don’t the other oystermen who
own beds near Hardy’s get good hauls?”
“I can’t deny some of them do,” admitted the shipper, “but I can’t
understand it. That’s no place for an oyster-bed, way out in that deep
water. They can’t expect to have luck always, though.”
Alec gave up. It was no use to try to overcome the shipper’s prejudices.
Day after day he continued his labors. He was so constantly on the water
that those who saw him became curious to know what he could be doing.
Now this oysterman, and now that, as Alec ran across him, tried to learn
what Alec was doing out on the Bay so much. Occasionally boats sailed
near him simply to watch him. At such times Alec pretended to be
fishing. Rather he did fish. So he caught many a toothsome meal. He also
made a large net of mosquito-netting, which he used for catching crabs.
Of course, all this curiosity was aroused, not about Alec himself, for
nobody cared much about a homeless lad, but because Alec was supposed to
be doing something for Captain Rumford. If the leading oyster shipper at
Bivalve found it worth while to keep a man out among the oyster-beds
week in and week out, the curious figured it might be worth their own
while to do a little examining themselves. The difficulty was that
nobody knew exactly what Alec was doing. So it came about that Alec did
exactly what he did not want to do. He called attention to his own
efforts. But his work was well along toward completion before it was
generally known that he was doing anything out of the ordinary. What
annoyed Alec most of all about the matter was his fear lest some one
track him to the _Osprey’s_ Nest and so discover the secret
hiding-place. Frequently, when other boats were near at hand toward
dusk, Alec came up to the oyster wharf and tied up in the slip at
Captain Rumford’s pier. He knew that even the most reckless would
hesitate to touch him there, under the glare of the pier-shed light and
with the watchman within call. So, whether any of Hardy’s friends ever
wished to harm him or not, Alec came through the summer unscathed, and
his hiding-place remained undiscovered.
One day, when August was more than half gone, Elsa called him on the
wireless and announced that repairs on Captain Flint’s boat, the
_Rebecca_, were completed and the paint dry, and that the Rumfords were
going to take their annual family cruise aboard of her. Alec was invited
to go along and no answer but a favorable one would be accepted. Of
course, there was nothing for Alec to do but put his work aside and say
he would go. In his heart he was more than glad to put his work aside.
Week after week he had stuck to it, holding himself with iron
determination to his task. But now the zest was gone out of it. The long
grind was wearing on his nerves. Joyously he looked forward to this
The next morning he did not put out in his boat, but went to the
shipper’s office to thank him for the invitation and to see if he could
be of assistance in preparing for the cruise. But the instant Alec saw
the shipper, he knew that something had gone wrong.
“Bagley’s left us,” blurted out the shipper, the moment he saw Alec. And
there were tears in his voice, if not in his eyes.
“What do you mean, sir?” asked Alec.
“He’s going to the Chesapeake next fall. Got a chance to go into
partnership with a shipper there. Don’t blame him a bit, but Gad! I hate
to lose him. He’s been with me seventeen years. Never worked anywhere
but on the _Bertha B_. Started oystering on her as a deck-hand. Don’t
know what I’ll do for another captain.”
“You can get plenty of them,” said Alec.
“Certainly,” said the shipper, “but not plenty of Bagleys. Why, I could
trust that man with my life.”
“Take Hawley,” said Alec.
“What!” cried the shipper. “Make a captain out of a fellow that was
fired from the _Bertha B_ less than a year ago for being drunk? You’re
“You’re foolish if you don’t take him,” urged Alec. “Why, Captain
Rumford, that man’s the very soul of honesty. I know him like a book.
I’d trust him just as far as I would you, Captain, and that’s saying all
I know how to say. It’s old John Barleycorn you have in mind. But Jim
cut his acquaintance long ago. And you know as well as I do that there
isn’t a better sailor in the fleet.”
The shipper was silent a long time. “Hanged if I don’t try it,” he said
at last. “I always liked Jim when he was sober. I’ll take him along on
this party and see how he can handle a boat. Now don’t you give him any
hint of what’s coming.”
“I’m mighty glad you’re going to take him,” cried Alec. “I haven’t a
better friend in the world than Jim. By the way, when are we going to
start on our little party?”
“Just as soon as we can get ready. It will likely take most of the day
to get the boat provisioned and get the stuff aboard that they want to
bring from home. We ought to be off in the morning.”
“Then I’ll call up Elsa and see what I can do to help.” And Alec bustled
away, joyful in the thought of the little outing ahead of him. Could he
have known exactly what was to happen to the little pleasure party, his
face would have worn a very different aspect indeed.
Alec could not see into the future, this time at least, and he went
about the work of preparing the _Rebecca_ with a merry heart. The ship
looked very fine, indeed, as she lay at the captain’s wharf, all spick
and span, and proudly displaying her new coat of paint. She was
considerably larger than the _Bertha B_. Her masts were stepped at a
rakish angle. Her rigging was neat. Her lines were good. For a boat of
her size she carried an unusual amount of sail. Her hold had been
emptied of all movable tackle and her decks cleared before she had been
hauled out for repairs. Nothing had yet been replaced. And in order that
the party might have all the room possible, nothing was to be replaced
until after the cruise. Even the anchor and the chains had been removed.
Inside, the cabin was perfectly bare. But the woodwork had all been
freshly painted or varnished, and the _Rebecca_ needed only a few
furnishings to make her very attractive, indeed.
While the shipper and Alec were making a hasty examination of the boat,
a truck load of furnishings arrived from the shipper’s home, and the two
at once started to carry the things aboard. There were cushions, and
bedding, and chairs, and rugs, and blankets, and wraps, and a host of
other things to make the boat comfortable. And there were great ticks to
be filled with straw for the men to sleep on in the hold, while Elsa and
her mother occupied the cabin.
When all the things were aboard and the truck had gone away, Captain
Rumford turned his attention to the ship’s gear. He was too careful a
sailor not to make sure that everything was right before he set sail. He
found everything in good condition. Only the anchor and the anchor chain
were missing. The chains had been laid away when the _Rebecca_ was
hauled out. It was neither easy nor convenient to get them now. The
captain studied the matter for a moment. “About all we’ll need an anchor
for,” he muttered to himself, “is to keep us from drifting at night.
I’ll just take along that little light anchor in the storeroom. We can
bend an old cable on it and it will answer our purpose. If a storm
should come up, we’ll run into a harbor. Now I’ll go see about that
The captain grabbed an oyster truck and hurried to his storeroom to get
it. A moment later he returned, trundling the anchor and an old hawser
before him. Alec helped lift them aboard. Then, while the captain was
bending on the hawser, Alec busied himself in the cabin, putting the
things there in some sort of order.
Presently came a load of provisions. Alec carried to the storeroom bag
after bag. It seemed to him he had brought enough stuff aboard to feed
a ship’s crew for a year. The provisions he stowed away in the cupboards
in the cabin. When Alec was done, the captain joined him and inspected
“Looks to me as though we’re ready to cast off the minute we get our
crew aboard,” he said. “She seems fit to contend with almost
“I can’t think of another thing we could wish for,” said Alec.
“Unless it was some music,” said the captain wistfully. “It never seemed
right to me to go on a party like this without some music. I’d have
given a lot if Elsa had learned to play the piano, but she just
wouldn’t. Hasn’t a particle of love for music. Funny, isn’t it, when I
like it so much. She likes to dance, too. You’d think she’d have some
liking for music, wouldn’t you?”
Alec made no response. But when the shipper drove away in his car, Alec
ran to the _Osprey_ and quickly uncoupled his wireless outfit. “It won’t
be much,” he said, “but it’s all I can do for the captain. He can have
music at night now, anyway. I’ll try to surprise him.”
He fastened his instruments in the cabin of the _Rebecca_, very much as
he had had them in the _Bertha B_. With two sticks he made an aerial
which he placed flat on the roof of the cabin. The sticks were fastened
together like a Maltese cross, and around their ends Alec wrapped strand
after strand of wire, bringing the end into the cabin through the tiny
window just above his instruments. He made a ground by twisting his wire
to a little length of chain, which he fastened over the side so that its
end hung in the water. Then he tested his instruments and found they
were in order. As far as Alec could see, everything was now in readiness
for the cruise.
Doubly delightful to Alec was the little trip that began next morning
because of the weeks of hard labor that had preceded it. Just as his
work had palled on him because he had been unable to combine any
amusement with it, so amusements pall when they are not interspersed
with toil. Now Alec’s appetite for pleasure was more than whetted. He
was ravenous for enjoyment. And being so, he enjoyed everything. The sun
that shone so bright seemed merry rather than hot to Alec. The winds
that circled about the mastheads seemed to Alec as playful as squirrels
frisking in a tree top. The waves seemed to laugh in glee as the wind
drove them before it, showing their white teeth in gleaming smiles as
they flashed in the sun. White teeth they were, too, that could rend as
well as gleam in the sun. Well enough Alec knew that fact. Before many
days he was to know it better still. But now he had no thought of care.
He had put work aside. He was like a small boy on a lark. Usually rather
staid and sober, now he kept the party laughing at his antics. And they
were ready enough to laugh with him. For this was a real pleasure
party. For the time being, care had been thrown to the winds.
But if the mere joy of being alive and free and with friends could make
Alec happy, the fact that he was seeing new things and learning new
things gave him added enjoyment. For never, for a single instant, did
Alec forget to pick up bits of knowledge that came his way. For well
nigh a year, now, he had lived on the waves. He had sailed the Delaware
in sunshine and in storm, when the weather was blazing hot and when ice
formed on the deck. And yet his knowledge of this great body of water
was limited wholly to what he had seen in the narrow compass of the
oyster-beds, or to what he had read. Now he was to see with his own eyes
the wonders of the deep. For as yet Alec had hardly been out of sight of
land, and he had never seen the ocean.
Alec would not have been himself had he not remembered to bring along a
map. And it was the largest map of the Bay he could lay his hands on. He
saw at a glance that in contour the Bay was roughly pear-shaped. On
either shore little excrescences, like the warts and blemishes that come
on real pears, stuck out here and there, to mar the perfect pear-shaped
outline of the Bay. The largest of these was Egg Island Point, off which
lay the light he knew so well. Miles farther up the coast the _Rebecca_
passed Ben Davis Point. And still farther along stretched a wide cove,
with the Cohansey River pouring into it, and a little, squat lighthouse
standing on a point, to guide the mariner into the stream.
Other points of interest the party visited, too–little summer resorts,
like Fortescue, and lighthouses, where they were welcomed in a way that
left no doubt of their hosts’ sincerity; for callers are few at a
lighthouse, and usually they are welcomed accordingly.
In the evenings, the party ran slowly before the gentle night wind, or,
anchoring far offshore to avoid mosquitoes, gave themselves up to
friendly talk and laughter–all save the captain. For him there was but
one nocturnal diversion; that was listening to the music with Alec’s
Sometimes the men went ashore and searched in the salt holes in the
marsh for crabs. Or all hands fished for them from the deck of the
_Rebecca_ lowering great chunks of white meat on strings, well weighted,
and gently raising their catch to the surface when they felt a nibbling
at the bait. Then came the fun of scooping the crabs with long-handled
dip-nets. Astonishingly often they failed to net them, too, for the wary
creatures, despite their seeming awkwardness, vanished the instant they
came to the surface. Great, gray-green things they were, with
savage-looking pincers that could crush a finger severely if they got
hold of one. And although he had previously caught crabs, Alec could
hardly accustom himself to their color, so long had he known only the
cooked crab of inland restaurants, which had turned red in boiling.
Sometimes they fished for weakfish, using pieces of crab meat for bait.
Beautiful, big fish they caught, too. And sometimes they got sea-bass
and flounders. And as often as not, they pulled in the troublesome
toadfish, which Alec came to detest as much as the sailors on the
Day followed day in unbroken pleasure. Now they were here, now there.
When Alec told the shipper that he had never seen the ocean, the shipper
said he would head for the sea at once. Alec could have a good look at
it, and then the party must head for home. Playtime was about ended.
But it was one thing to say they would go to the sea and another thing
to get there. The flood-tide held them back. The wind was hardly more
than stirring. So fierce was the sun, so intense the heat on deck, that
both Elsa and her mother retreated to the cabin. The captain sought what
coolness he could find in the uncertain shade of a sail. Big Jim Hawley
stood at the wheel, silent, imperturbable. Alec flung himself on the
deck near him. From time to time Hawley studied the sky. Great cumulus
clouds were forming near the horizon.
“We’ll have a storm to-night,” he said to Alec.
“The sooner the better,” said Alec. “Anything to break this heat wave.”
They rolled slowly on. The water gently heaved and the _Rebecca_ swayed
with it. There was barely wind enough to keep the sails from flapping.
“We’ll never reach the Capes in daylight at this rate,” said Hawley.
“The days are getting much shorter.”
“That’s so,” said Alec. “Yesterday was the twenty-first of August. It’s
just two months since the longest day and the days are shortening fast.”
Slowly the _Rebecca_ forged ahead. Even the cool breath of the water
could scarcely make the sun’s heat endurable. Under the fierce rays the
smell of paint became almost overpowering. The tar on ropes and rigging
almost melted and ran. The fleecy clouds along the horizon bulked larger
and larger. Slowly they rose toward the zenith. Late afternoon came. The
ship was still far from the Capes. Captain Rumford studied the clouds
“We’ll pull in behind the breakwater when we get there, Jim,” he said
quietly. “I think that storm will be a rip snorter. We might as well be
on the safe side.”
They went on. Gradually the sun’s rays grew feebler. Gusts of vapor were
hurtling across the sky, curtaining the fiery beams. The sky turned a
peculiar greenish-copper color. The thunder-heads mounted ever higher.
Then the sun was shut from sight. It grew dusk. Darkness came, as sudden
as the dropping of a curtain. Afar off, flashes of lightning rent the
clouds. Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. The wind died away.
It grew calm as midnight. The _Rebecca_ rolled idly, her sheets
flapping. The men got into their oilskins.
“Better shorten sail,” said the shipper.
They ran to the halyards. Down came the great canvases. Nimbly they
fastened the reef-points and made all as snug as possible.
“Now let her blow,” said the shipper. “The more wind, the faster we go.
We’ll reach the breakwater and heave to. I kind of wish we had a heavier
None too soon had the _Rebecca_ shortened sail. Afar off an ominous
rushing sound was heard. The wind began to come in short puffs. Flash
after flash of lightning illumined the angry clouds. The roaring sound
grew louder. It came on with the speed of an express-train. Over the
waves swept a sheet of falling rain like a very wall of water. Alec
closed the companionway and jammed on the hatch covers. In another
moment the storm was upon them.
Over the waves the falling rain came hissing like steam. It fell in a
torrent. In a second the deck of the _Rebecca_ was running with water.
The sails tightened and bellied as the wind came smack! against them.
The _Rebecca_ trembled all over, then bent to the blast and began to run
through the water like a wild thing. Big Hawley stood at his wheel, as
steady as a new mast. He handled the ship as though she were a toy.
“Some thunder-storm,” he smiled at Alec. “It’ll blow itself out in a
little while. Nothing to worry about. It’ll get us to the breakwater in
It did, too. Long before Alec had any idea where they were, Jim brought
the _Rebecca_ up into the wind, and with her sails close-hauled, drove
her shoreward. The rain still fell heavily, but Alec could dimly make
out the curving shore-line and across it, like the string to a bow,
stretched a black streak that Alec knew must be the breakwater. The
waves were dashing on it madly. But the wind now blew almost parallel
with the long stone pile. The breakwater gave them no protection. Rather
it was a menace. If the ship should drag her anchor and drift on it, her
hull would be battered to pieces in no time. Surely this was no place to
heave to in such a storm.
“We’ll just beat up along the coast, Jim,” said the shipper. “It’s a
windward shore. The storm will blow itself out pretty soon.”
The big sailor threw his weight against the wheel. The ship heeled over
in the wind. Something cracked like a rifle-shot. The wheel flew around,
almost dropping Hawley to the deck. The rudder had broken.
“Overboard with the anchor!” called the shipper.
Hawley and Alec ran forward to execute the order. There was a splash and
the anchor rope paid out fast. Hawley gave the ship sufficient line and
went aft again to examine the steering-gear.
“Can’t do anything with it,” said the shipper. “The rudder itself is
broken. We’ll have to ride the storm out here, then get help.”
He went forward and examined the anchor line. Then he looked long and
steadily at the breakwater, which was all too close to please him.
“She’s holding all right,” he said. “We might as well eat while we wait
for the storm to end.”
They entered the cabin and stripped off their oilskins. “Any danger?”
asked Mrs. Rumford, with anxious eyes.
“We’re perfectly safe as long as our anchor doesn’t drag. It’s a little
light, that’s all. But it’s holding well. I don’t think there is any
probability of harm.”
Elsa and her mother got supper. From time to time the captain peered out
of the cabin window. All seemed well. They sat down to eat. It was not a
merry meal, as some of their meals had been, but the storm had not
dulled their appetites and they ate with enjoyment. Elsa and Alec even
joked a little. Hawley was silent from habit. Mrs. Rumford was a little
apprehensive. The captain was too busy with his own thoughts to talk.
Suddenly the big sailor jumped to his feet. “Feels as though we are
movin’, Cap’n,” he said. He pulled on his oilskins and stepped out in
the rain. In a moment he came tearing back. “We’re adrift,” he bellowed
down the companionway. “The anchor line has parted.”
Neither the shipper nor Alec waited to don oilskins, but rushed out on
deck at once. There could be no doubt about the situation. The _Rebecca_
had swung around broadside to the wind and was wallowing in the waves.
The anchor line dangled loosely at her bow. The situation was critical.
The breakwater was not far away, though fortunately the wind did not now
blow toward it. Plainly they were drifting abreast of it, gathering
speed with every minute. And both wind and tide were driving them toward
the open sea.
“If only we had put those dredges aboard,” said the shipper, “we might
hold ourselves yet. There isn’t a thing on board we can put down to hold
with. If only we don’t go on that stone pile, we’ll be all right. This
storm can’t last long, and somebody will pick us up, sure.”
Driven by the wind, the tide was running like a mill-race, and the
_Rebecca_ was swept along at an unbelievable pace.
The shipper and Alec stepped into the cabin and pulled on their
oilskins, then returned to the deck.
“We don’t have even a boat-hook or a setting-pole,” sighed the shipper.
“I suppose they wouldn’t be much use anyway, but a fellow could at least
try to fend the ship off those rocks.”
Fearful, he looked toward the breakwater. Little by little the _Rebecca_
was drawing closer to it. At the same time she was rapidly driving past
the great stone pile. Would she clear it or not? There was nothing to do
but stand and wait. And the three sailors almost held their breath as
they steadied themselves by the rigging and watched. Nearer the boat
came to the rocks and nearer, and the end of the breakwater was still
“She’s going to strike,” said the shipper. “She’ll crash in another
minute. We’ll have to lower the life-boat.”
They ran aft toward the davits, then paused a single second to watch. A
great wave was lifting the _Rebecca_. Up she rose high on the crest, and
swept straight toward the breakwater.
“Get the women on deck quick,” roared the shipper. “She’s going to
Alec sprang for the companionway. The ship gave a lurch, but there was
no noise, no jar. An enormous wave, rushing against the breakwater, had
rebounded and swept the ship clear. The tide hurled her forward. A
moment later, by the narrowest of margins, the vessel skimmed across the
end of the breakwater, and shot into the open water beyond. For the
moment she was safe.
Straight toward the open sea she went, fast as wind and tide could drive
her. The storm still continued. The rain had slackened, though it still
fell. The wind yet blew with violence. With every moment and with every
foot they drew offshore the waves ran higher. Now driving straight
ahead, now swinging in the wind, now wallowing in the waves, and at
times smashing stern first into the rolling sea, the _Rebecca_ drove on
before the storm.
“Make a flare,” said the shipper grimly. “We’ve got to get help.”
The big sailor set about executing his order, but Alec darted into the
cabin. Swiftly he threw over his switch. Then, steadying his hand, he
flashed the call, “SOS–SOS–SOS.” Then he paused and listened.
Almost immediately came a reply. “I have your signal of distress. Who
and where are you?”
“Schooner _Rebecca_,” flashed back Alec. “Drifting out to sea between
the Delaware Capes, just off Henlopen. Rudder broken, anchor lost. Who
and where are you?”
“Steamer _Lycoming_. About thirty miles south of the Delaware Capes.
Should reach you in less than two hours. Keep a flare burning.”
Alec leaped from his instrument as though he were shot. “It’s Roy,” he
cried. “It’s Roy. The _Lycoming_ is only thirty miles away. She’ll reach
us in less than two hours.”
Again he turned to his instrument. Now he flashed out the _Lycoming’s_
call. “WNA–WNA–WNA de 3ADH–3ADH–3ADH,” he flashed.
At once came the response. “3ADH–3ADH–3ADH de WNA–WNA–WNA. Have been
trying to get you, Alec. Where are you?”
“On the _Rebecca_,” flashed back Alec. “Just sent the SOS you answered.”
“Thank God you’ve got a wireless!” came back the answer from Roy. “Don’t
worry. We’ll find you sure. We’ve already shifted our course. We’re
heading straight for the Capes.”
“Stand by while I tell the Captain, Roy,” signalled Alec. Then he threw
over his switch and darted out on deck.
“We’re saved, Captain,” he shouted through the storm. “The _Lycoming_
is only thirty miles away and is heading straight for us. She will reach
us in less than two hours.”
Anxiously the three watchers peered into the dark. Aloft swung their
lights. In a dish-pan on the deck a flare was burning. From time to time
Hawley fed oil-soaked pieces of wood to the flames. The rain had ceased
to fall. The wind still blew fitfully, but with lessened violence. The
night was as dark as a tunnel. Up and down, up and down, the oyster-boat
now rose and fell on the great swells of the Atlantic. At last Alec was
within sight of the ocean. But it was little he saw of it or cared to
see of it.
What he was watching for was a light. Minute after minute the silent
watchers strained their eyes into the darkness. Time passed. A half hour
went by. An hour elapsed. Then far off in the dark something glowed
faintly. Minute by minute the light grew brighter. It came closer.
Alec darted into the cabin. He flashed the _Lycoming’s_ call and got an
answer. “We can see the lights of a big steamer,” he signalled. “Can you
see us yet? We are burning a flare on deck and our lights are burning
“We see you plainly. Will reach you in a few minutes.”
Alec shut off his power. “Come on deck,” he said to Elsa.
She followed him up the companionway. Alec tore off his coat and
wrapped it around her. Then he took her hand and led her forward.
“Look,” he said. “You may never see another sight like this.”
“I never want to,” said Elsa.
“That is the _Lycoming_,” said Alec. “Didn’t I tell you that Roy was a
prince? We shall owe our lives to him. He’s a wonderful wireless man.”
“Will you ever learn any sense?” said Elsa. “How would Roy or his
captain have known that we were here if we hadn’t had a good wireless
man on board the _Rebecca?_”
Now the _Lycoming_ was close at hand. Suddenly her search-light blazed
forth and rested fairly on the little schooner. Slowly the big steamer
drew near. Then she stopped. Presently a boat shot into the circle of
light. Lusty sailors were pulling at the oars. A line trailed behind.
The boat passed slowly to leeward of the helpless oyster-boat, then drew
close. A sailor rose to his feet and cast a little line. Swiftly it came
hissing through the air. Hawley grasped it before it touched the deck.
Hand over hand he pulled the line aboard. The light line was followed by
a huge hawser. Eagerly the line was hauled aboard. Big Hawley made it
fast. The ship’s boat disappeared into the darkness. The sound of
tackle-blocks soon followed. Slowly the _Lycoming_ moved ahead. The
hawser tightened. The _Rebecca_ swung gently round, then slowly moved
ahead. In another moment she was moving steadily through the water.
“Well, I never thought I’d come to this in an oyster-boat,” said the
shipper. “We might have been in real trouble if that steamer hadn’t
Alec thought they were in real trouble as it was. “I wonder where the
_Lycoming_ will take us,” he said.
“By George! We must attend to that at once. We don’t want to be towed
clear off to New York. Call up the captain, Alec, and see if he won’t
tow us into the Cape May harbor.”
Alec hurried to the cabin and called Roy. Then he explained the
situation. After a time he got an answer. The _Lycoming_ would tow the
_Rebecca_ to the Cape May harbor, but a tug would be needed to take the
schooner into the harbor itself. Roy said he would try to arrange for
the tug. Alec listened in while Roy was talking with Cape May. Finally
Roy called Alec again and said that a tug would meet them. In little
more than an hour’s time the _Lycoming_ was nearing Cape May. The tug
came alongside and made fast to the _Rebecca_. Then the tow-line was
cast off, good-byes were called, Captain Rumford sent his thanks and
good wishes to Captain Lansford of the _Lycoming_, and finally Alec
wired a grateful message to Roy from the party on the _Rebecca_. The
big steamer moved off into the darkness, the tug began to puff busily,
and before another hour passed, the _Rebecca_ lay safe and still within
the harbor. Next day temporary repairs were made to the _Rebecca’s_
rudder, and before night the oyster-boat lay snug at her own pier at
The pleasure trip had been a great success–all but the very end of it;
and very little harm had come of that. Excepting for the rudder, which
was quickly replaced, not a thing was damaged on the little boat. The
greatest injury came to the captain’s pocketbook. Tug hire and the cost
of repairs made the outing expensive. But so long as they had come home
in safety, the shipper did not complain.
By the time the _Rebecca_ was in commission again the oyster season was
at hand. Orders began to appear for oysters. As was usual at the
beginning of the season, there were too few oyster orders to pay the
expenses of operating. Some shippers did not start their boats promptly;
but Captain Rumford had built up his big business as much by providing
service as by selling good oysters. It was his idea that as an oyster
merchant it was up to him to provide oysters whenever they were in
season. So the _Bertha B_ started promptly.
Now it seemed as though misfortune had marked the shipper for her very
own; as though, balked of her prey on that stormy day in August, she
meant to pursue the shipper until she got him. An unbroken succession
of little accidents occurred on the _Bertha B_. Now a dredge was lost
and valuable time consumed in grappling for it. Now a propeller blade
was snapped off by something in the water–perhaps the submerged remains
of an oyster stake. Then a piston-rod in the engine broke. One mishap
followed another. And it required both time and money to repair each.
The shipper’s repair bill alone made him look serious.
But bad luck did not end there. From the very start it was evident that
it was to be a poor year for oysters. The shipper’s boat worked long
hours and caught relatively few oysters. As more orders came in, other
boats were put in commission. The result was the same. Day after day the
boats came in with only half loads. Nor was this situation peculiar to
Captain Rumford. Few, indeed, were the shippers who had many oysters
that year. In his shallow water beds, or such of them as contained
oysters old enough to dredge, the captain got a fair catch. But all the
profit he made from these beds, and more too, was eaten up by the
expense of working his deep water beds. So far as he could, the shipper
took his oysters from his inner beds. But these had been dredged so
close in the humming oyster seasons just past, and did not begin to
contain as many oysters as the shipper needed.
What was worse, when he had taken the present season’s crop from these
inner beds, there would be no more to dredge for three years. For these
were the beds he had seeded in the spring–these and the new bed far
out that Captain Flint had seeded so heavily and that Hardy had tried to
raid. Week after week the oyster-boats continued their work, and with
every week the captain found himself a poorer man. But there was nothing
to do but go on–to borrow money, if necessary, and then borrow more and
more. If he expected to retain his customers for future years when
oysters were plentiful and profitable again, he must carry his load of
loss now. And of course the captain went on.
He was not a superstitious man, was Captain Rumford, but like all
sailors he came near to being one. It seemed to him that the loss of
Captain Bagley was directly connected with his misfortunes; as though
that loss were the first link in a chain of misfortune. Close on
Bagley’s loss had come the accident to the _Rebecca_. Then had followed
a big string of accidents to Bagley’s old ship. Of course, big Jim
Hawley, the new commander, was in no way responsible for these, and yet
it almost seemed as though there was a direct connection between his
coming aboard and these accidents. What Captain Rumford forgot was the
fact that the _Bertha B_, like the one-hoss shay, had reached a point
where she was almost ready to go to pieces. She was the oldest boat in
the captain’s fleet. She had seen continuous service for dozens of
years. Her engine was the very oldest in use among the oyster-boats.
Nothing can wear forever, and the _Bertha B_ was reaching the point
where she would have to be laid on the shelf. It was big Jim Hawley’s
misfortune that he assumed command of her at that particular moment.
Had Captain Rumford only thought of it, he could have balanced a whole
string of fortunate events against this string of unfortunate ones; and
these had begun with the coming of Alec. The largest bead in this string
was the fact of their rescue on the _Rebecca_. There were other beads
that at present Captain Rumford failed to note at all, or even to
understand that they were pieces of good fortune, as, for example,
Alec’s survey of the oyster waters. In good time, however, he was to see
that matter in its true light.
As for Alec, he had never toiled so hard in his life. A year of
unremitting labor had taught him how to work. Not only was he able to
hold himself rigidly to his tasks, but he could accomplish more in a
given time than he had ever done before. Nor was that strange. He was
merely acquiring the skill that comes of practice. For now Alec felt
like an old hand in the oyster business. He had passed a full year as an
oysterman. He had seen every phase of the oyster business. He had
learned as many actual facts about oystering as almost anybody at
Bivalve knew; and he had acquired many that most of his fellow oystermen
would never understand. What he still lacked was the wisdom that comes
from long experience. Only time could give him that. Yet he was a
generation ahead of his fellow oystermen. He was the first of the oyster
pioneers of the new school.
Hard, indeed, must have been the luck that followed the _Bertha B_,
when with two men like Alec and Captain Hawley aboard her she was still
a failure. For Captain Hawley was a new Hawley, indeed. He still had all
his old strength and courage, all his innate good-nature, all his deep
knowledge of oystering as it had been practiced. And he had more. He had
been recreated. His ambition had been again aroused. He had been fired
afresh with the determination to climb up in the oyster business. His
unexpected elevation to the captaincy of a ship had stimulated and
aroused him to the utmost. His association with Alec had brought out the
best that was in him. And these two comrades, Alec and Captain Jim,
worked to make things go for the shipper, as few men ever worked for
another. They drove the ship, they drove the crew–by example rather
than compulsion–they made everything work as close to one hundred per
cent. efficiency as is humanly possible–and yet they failed. No matter
what the obstacles, they could have dredged the oysters, had there been
oysters to dredge; but they could not make oysters.
Again and again Alec went over with Jim the life-history of the oyster,
for now Captain Hawley was as eager to learn the real truth about
oysters as once he had been indifferent to that truth. In his study of
the oyster-beds in future years, Alec knew he would no longer have to
work alone. Now they tried to account for the poor yield of oysters. For
everywhere the yield was poor. Nobody had a good crop. And more than
one shipper saw bankruptcy looming in the offing. Every aspect of
oystering Alec and Captain Jim considered as they sat by the cabin fire
in the _Bertha B_ at night. The tide, the bottom, the storms, the
quantities of seed used. And here Captain Jim’s memory was of wonderful
help. Apparently he knew all about the weather for years past.
Eventually they hit upon the truth. The year in which the present
season’s catch was planted had been the coldest in a decade. Storm had
followed storm. And finally, seed had been scarce.
“I think we have solved it,” said Alec at last. “It was too cold for
spawning, so there were few larvæ in the water. The storms must have
shifted the sand and mud in the bottom and smothered many oysters. On
top of all that there were few seed to plant. No wonder there are no
oysters this year.”
“Alec,” said the big sailor, “if what you say is true, and I now believe
it is, there won’t be many oysters next season, either, or the year
after. For we had three cold, stormy springs running.”
Alec considered the matter a while. “It will go tough with the shipper,”
he said, “for this year will clean up his inshore beds pretty well. He
can’t get anything out of them for three seasons. And I don’t believe
there’ll be many oysters in his other beds. We must think what we can do
to help Captain Rumford.”
In every way that he could, Alec was assisting the captain. Every day
when the _Bertha B_ came in from the oyster grounds, Alec dropped off at
the pier and hustled to the office to help the shipper with the office
work. And now he was permitted to do some of the bookkeeping. For, with
things going so badly on his boats, the shipper had often to be away
from his office. There were banks to be visited, merchants to be
consulted, ship-chandlers to be seen. His line of credit was worrying
the shipper quite as much as his line of boats. For he understood by
this time that he would have to operate at a loss for the entire season.
Sometimes there came a dull day when Alec could attend to his shell
business. Now that he had lost Hawley as a partner, he had had to employ
some one else to gather his shells. He had found a young lad, who was
strong and willing to work, and who had given excellent service. Work,
rather than workers, was at a premium this season, for already many
boats had stopped running, and Alec had to pay no more for his new
assistant than he had formerly paid to Hawley. And as he continued to
live on the _Bertha B_, Alec was still able to save several dollars each
week. This year he would have all the shells from all the shippers, and
he was certain of a good profit. From this he meant to give his helper a
In due time Captain Hardy and his accomplices were tried. Alec had to
appear as a witness against them, but he found that he had the moral
support of every honest shipper at Bivalve. And this time, true to
prediction, Hardy did go to prison, and every one of his pals went with
him. Their assault on Alec, and their evident intent to kill him, had as
much to do with their getting a prison sentence as the actual theft of
oysters did. So it came about that Alec was relieved of the danger of
Slowly the winter passed. Daily Alec’s admiration for the shipper grew.
Now that he was helping with the books, Alec understood how very hard
hit the shipper was. He thought he understood the very sober face and
the worried look the captain carried. But never a word escaped the
captain’s lips that would lead any one to think he was in difficulty,
and even Alec never guessed the actual truth.
Spring came. This time it was a warm, balmy spring. Earth and water and
air warmed up early and stayed warm. If only the oystermen had known it,
this was the season of all seasons to put down shells. But the oystermen
were in poor condition to do much of anything. There was hardly a man
among them who had not lost money. More than one of these almost lost
his faith with his money. In consequence, grounds were shelled lighter
than they had been in years.
But Alec had not lost his faith nor his determination. Everything that
he saw and read and heard tended to increase his belief that scientific
oystering would pay as the old rule-of-thumb style of oystering had
never paid. And the more he became convinced of that fact, the readier
he was to back his judgment with his cash, to bet more and more heavily
on himself. To him that hath, the Good Book tells us, shall be given.
Alec found it was even so. He had the knowledge. He had the oyster-bed.
He had the shells. And with many boats idle, he had ships aplenty at his
command. All that he had he risked on the shelling of his beds. He put
down bushels where other planters ordinarily planted baskets. And he
piled his shells in windrows transversely to the current. Shells by the
ton he planted in his bed, stopping only when his money was entirely
exhausted. When finally he had to end his efforts, he found that he had
shelled his grounds almost to the last rod.
But it had required more courage to do so than Alec had foreseen. He had
full confidence in his own judgment, and he had the support of Hawley,
but Captain Rumford had stormed and stormed at what he termed Alec’s
folly. For the shipper had Alec’s welfare very much at heart, and to him
there seemed very little difference between dumping dollars and dumping
shells into that great depth of water. In his own mind he was perfectly
certain that Alec had parted with every one of his hard earned dollars
that had gone into the shelling of the new bed.
But despite the shipper’s opposition, Alec had persevered. Summer found
him with an empty pocket, but full of hope. And it found him well
toward his twenty-first birthday. But what a different lad he was from
the high school boy who had landed at Bivalve only a little less than
two years previously. Hard physical labor had broadened and built him
up. He was close to the six feet Captain Bagley had predicted for him.
He was as powerful as an ox. His courage had grown. His mind had
expanded with his body. His determination to climb up had become
stronger and stronger. The friendship between Elsa and himself was as
solid as a rock. It was founded on mutual respect and confidence. Trust
was its corner-stone.
Nor was Elsa the only one who trusted Alec, nor yet the shipper and
Alec’s immediate friends. Everybody at the oyster wharves had confidence
in him. They knew his ambitions. They also knew he would achieve them.
Many a man among them would have risked his money on Alec as confidently
as Alec had done himself and would have done so gladly. For all money
and wealth in the world is won through the efforts of human beings. And
far-seeing business men are ever looking for dependable lads to invest
in, just as much as they are on the watch for other good bargains to
buy. But of all this Alec as yet had little realization. All he
understood was that he was keeping faith with himself and other men and
that he was slowly but surely forging ahead.