With a bound, big Jim Hawley was at Alec’s side. “Did they hurt you,
lad?” he cried.
“Not much,” replied Alec, “but I guess they would have killed me if you
Alec turned partly away to watch what was doing. The light fell on his
face so that the raw, red mark from the blow, now rapidly turning black,
stood out plainly.
“Who did that?” demanded Hawley.
“Jim!” rang out Captain Rumford’s voice, as Hawley leaped toward the
cowering bully. Hawley stopped in his tracks. “We’ve had enough violence
already. Let him alone.”
The shipper turned to the commander of the _Dianthus_. “You wanted
evidence before you would make an arrest,” he said. “Here’s your
evidence.” He pointed toward the pile of seed-oysters on the deck of the
_Shark_. Then he faced Alec. “You saw them dredged, did you not?”
“Yes, sir. They came out of the bed just to starboard, sir.”
Again the shipper faced the captain of the _Dianthus_. “That’s my bed
and these are my oysters. I charge these men with theft and also with
assault and battery on this lad.”
“You are under arrest,” said the guardsman to the crew of the _Shark_,
“and we will shoot at the slightest attempt at resistance.” He turned to
his men. “Search them,” he commanded.
A revolver and an ugly dirk were found on Hardy. Wallace had some brass
knuckles in his pocket. The others were not armed.
“We’ll just add a charge of carrying concealed weapons when these two
are arraigned,” said the captain of the _Dianthus_.
“You’ll have to watch them,” said Captain Rumford. “They’re a desperate
lot. They won’t go to prison without a struggle.”
“We won’t take any chances with them,” said the captain of the
guard-boat. “Get your irons, men.”
The guardsmen produced handcuffs and in another moment Hardy and his
band of desperadoes were securely shackled. Then they were taken aboard
“We’ll bring the _Shark_ in,” said the shipper. “You take care of your
“Hoist the sailing lights,” said the shipper, as the _Dianthus_ moved
away into the darkness.
Alec pulled out his flash-light and hunted about in the _Shark’s_ cabin
until he found her lanterns. He lighted them. While Jim Hawley hoisted
the white light aloft, Alec was fastening the red and green lights in
“Now make the _Osprey_ fast astern,” ordered the shipper.
Alec leaped aboard the little craft and pushed her along the side of the
_Shark_, while Hawley pulled on a rope from her bow. In a moment the
_Osprey_ floated astern and Alec was back on the _Shark_.
“Haul those sheets a bit tighter,” called the shipper.
Alec and Hawley obeyed the command. The shipper twirled his wheel, the
_Shark_ slowly gathered headway, and in a moment was sailing briskly on
the starboard tack.
“Now, you young rascal,” said Captain Rumford, when the _Shark_ was
fairly under way, “tell me what all this means. Whatever led you to do
such a foolhardy trick? You had us nearly scared to death. Didn’t you
know that those fellows are a desperate lot? It’s God’s mercy alone that
prevented them from murdering you.”
“I think your own arrival had a lot more to do with it,” laughed Alec.
Then his face grew very sober. “I think they really meant to kill me,”
he said. “I know they would at least have beaten me badly if the
_Dianthus_ hadn’t appeared when she did.”
“Tell us all about it,” urged the shipper. “How did you ever learn that
Hardy intended to raid my bed, and what in the world ever made you do
such a foolish thing as to follow him all alone?”
Alec explained how he had overheard the conversation in the cabin. “You
should have told me at once,” said the shipper.
“I started to tell you,” said Alec. “Then I was ashamed to bother you
until I had something more definite to tell you. I was afraid you would
think I was suffering from a bad imagination. So I decided to wait until
I had something really definite. I followed the _Shark_ out to the
oyster-beds, keeping far enough back of her to escape discovery. At the
mouth of the river I stopped and told Elsa where I was and what I was
“It’s a mighty good thing for you, lad, that you did. If you had waited
half an hour longer, we might never have seen you again. You’ve had a
narrower shave than you think, lad. The _Dianthus_ just happened to be
in the harbor. Her captain came up this afternoon to see me about some
business matters. There wasn’t another boat in the river that could have
got to you anywhere near as quick. The minute Elsa told me what you were
up to, I jumped in my car and raced over to Bivalve. The captain was
just boarding a trolley-car to go away for the night. He didn’t want to
come. Said he could arrest the oyster thieves any time I had the
evidence ready. I told him it wasn’t a question of oysters but of your
life and that he _had_ to come. And you should have seen us come, lad.
The captain crowded on everything he had. But what I don’t understand is
how you prevented those ruffians from murdering you, once they had you
in their power.”
“They were going to murder me,” said Alec, his cheek paling at the
memory of his danger. “I don’t believe there’s any doubt of it. But I
bluffed them.” And Alec related what had happened on the deck of the
_Shark_. “If the _Dianthus_ hadn’t shown her light just when she did,”
he said soberly, “I don’t believe I would be talking to you now.”
“Watch that boom,” cried the captain. “I’m going to come about.”
Alec dodged as the boom swept across the deck. Suddenly he thought of
Elsa, standing by at the wireless. “Oh, Captain!” he cried. “I must go
aboard the _Osprey_. Elsa said she would stand by in case I needed to
call her again.”
“I reckon you’ll have to talk to her, Alec,” replied the shipper. “She
was just scared to death when she got your message.”
The captain swung the ship straight into the wind. The sails began to
flap. The boat lost headway. Big Jim Hawley laid his hand on the
_Osprey’s_ line and hauled the little craft close beside the _Shark_.
Alec stepped aboard of her. Flashlight in hand, he made his way into the
cabin and sat down at his instrument.
“3ARM–3ARM–3ARM de 3ADH–3ADH–3ADH,” he signalled.
Instantly came the response.
“Everything O. K.,” flashed Alec. “_Dianthus_ arrived and took Hardy and
his crew ashore. No difficulty. Nobody hurt. Your father, Jim, and I are
bringing back the _Shark_. We’re some distance off the bar now.
_Dianthus_ is already in the river. Don’t know how to thank you for your
help. I think you saved my life. Will tell you about it when I see you.”
“I want to see you to-night,” flashed back Elsa.
“Impossible,” telegraphed Alec. “Won’t be in until very late.”
“I won’t take no for an answer. You must come home with Dad. Say you
“Maybe he won’t take me,” signalled Alec.
“Tell him if he comes home without you I’ll never forgive him.”
Outside Alec heard the captain bawling, “Are you going to talk all
“Good-bye,” flashed Alec, and stepped out on deck. Then, “Aye, aye,
sir,” he called. “Be there as soon as I hoist this light.” He lighted
his lantern and ran it aloft. Then he climbed aboard the _Shark_.
“Your daughter ordered me to tell you, sir,” he said, “that she’ll never
forgive you if you don’t bring your wireless man home with you.”
“Oh! She did, eh? I suppose the wireless man has no wishes in the matter
Alec blushed. “Captain Rumford,” he said, “you know I like to come to
your house whenever I properly can. It’s more like home to me than any
other place in the world.”
“God bless you, lad!” said the shipper, his tone instantly changing. “We
should have missed you sadly if anything had happened to you to-night.
You certainly shall go home with me and you shall spend the night there.
I don’t like the idea of your sleeping alone on that little boat, after
what has happened. Remember now. You must watch like a hawk or somebody
_will_ get you. Hardy and his gang have lots of friends, and if they get
a good chance they’ll harm you. So be on your guard at all times and
“Thank you, sir,” said Alec. “I don’t think they’ll catch me off my
guard. I’ve had enough experience since I came to Bivalve to make a
Quickly the _Shark_ gathered headway, and was soon bowling along toward
her pier. “She’s a nice stepper,” said the shipper. “She’s built for
speed. I reckon old Hardy found speed useful in his business. But I
guess he’ll soon learn that slow but sure is a good motto after all. I
think he’ll make a pretty long visit to Trenton. And I don’t believe
he’ll ever show his face around here again. He’s done as an oysterman,
at least at Bivalve.”
Captain Rumford fell into a brown study. He was so deep in thought that
he almost forgot what he was doing, which was something very unusual.
Presently Hawley spoke out of the darkness forward, where he was on
watch. “Hadn’t we better go about, Cap’n?” he said in a deep, quiet
Captain Rumford woke up with a start, strained his eyes into the
darkness, then twirled his wheel like mad. “Look out for the boom!” he
said, then added, with a laugh, “Wouldn’t they have given me the laugh
if I had laid the _Shark_ up on the bank. And she’d have been there in
about sixty seconds more.”
The _Shark_ wore away on the other tack, but Captain Rumford did not
forget himself again. “Jim,” he called presently.
“Aye, aye, sir,” came the big sailor’s response from the forepeak hatch
where he was sitting.
“Come here a moment.”
As the big sailor made his way aft, the shipper said, “Hawley, it kind
of runs in my mind that you once had some sort of a claim to Hardy’s
oyster-beds. Am I right?”
“I owned them once,” said Hawley.
“You owned them! Why, I never knew that. How’d Hardy come to get them?”
“You see, sir, I staked out them beds years ago when everybody else was
plantin’ in shallow water. You know them beds is out deep. Everybody
laughed at me. Of course I never had no outfit to work ’em, but I
figured that some day I might get a boat somehow. And then, too, I
noticed that every year planters were putting seed farther out. I
figured they’d reach my beds after a bit, and if I couldn’t do anything
more, I could at least get a few loads of shells down and maybe get a
set of spat from the other beds. And I would, too, if I had kept hold of
them beds. Why, Lord bless you! Look where they are now–right in the
middle of the oyster-beds.”
“Why didn’t you hang on to them, Jim?”
The big sailor hung his head. “I got to drinkin’, Cap’n. You know how I
used to hit it up. Hardy got me into a poker game, and when all my money
was gone, I put up my oyster-beds and he got them, too. I reckon he had
a crooked deck, too.”
“I reckon you’re right. Everything about that fellow seems to have been
For a time there was silence. The _Shark_ sailed swiftly on. She was now
well up the river. Soon the solitary light at Bivalve shone close at
hand. Then the shipper laid the _Shark_ skilfully alongside the pier.
They bade good night to Hawley, and in another moment Alec and the
shipper were bowling homeward in the captain’s motor-car. At least it
seemed to Alec as though he were going home.
It seemed even more like home when the shipper threw open the door and
ushered Alec into the big house. For his own mother and sister could
hardly have given Alec a more cordial welcome than Mrs. Rumford and Elsa
gave him. Despite that welcome Alec suddenly became self-conscious and
bashful. He was embarrassed by the warmth of the greeting given him.
Also he saw in Elsa’s eyes a light he had never seen there before. Had
he but known it, a similar light was shining in his own eyes. His heart
beat with strange and unaccustomed irregularity. More than once he
flushed like a schoolgirl. He felt curiously awkward and at the same
time unaccountably happy. Now he realized that Elsa would never be the
same to him in future as she had been in the past. His lonely vigil in
the dark, his hour of supreme danger when only the hand of this girl
comrade thrust out through the night had saved him from death, had
revealed to him the inner meaning of the friendship that had sprung up
A question arose in his mind, a question that seemed more important to
him than anything else in the world. Yet he could not ask that question,
and he knew it would be a long, long time before he dared. Still he did
not need to ask any question to learn his answer. He could read it in
Elsa’s eyes. The hour of peril, when she had sat in mute apprehension,
listening, listening, listening, breathless in her fear, had told Elsa
also that she could never again think of Alec in the old way.
So, although Alec at first was unaccountably ill at ease, he was happier
than he had ever been in his life. He was happy in what he saw in Elsa’s
eyes. He was also happy in the thought that he had been true to the
shipper, that he had not betrayed the captain’s confidence, that he had
really saved his friend and benefactor from great loss. And that was no
little thing for a lad still in his teens.
Of course time went by unobserved. Nobody at that Rumford household
cared a farthing that night how fast the time went or how late it was.
Once more Alec had to relate every incident in connection with his
adventure, from the moment he left the Rumford house in the early
evening to the moment he returned to it after his rescue from the
When all the story had been dragged from the reluctant lad, the shipper
once more expressed his opinion of Alec’s folly in wasting his time over
the silly notion that a microscope and a thimbleful of sea water would
tell him anything about the value for oyster-culture of a piece of land
three fathoms under the waves. Instantly Elsa flew to Alec’s defense.
“Now, father,” she said, “Alec is doing just what he ought to do, and
you ought to be the last person in the world to discourage him. He’s
going to find out the truth even if he doesn’t find the oysters he hopes
to, and that’s worth a lot.”
“Well, all he finds out won’t begin to make up for the money he’ll lose
while he’s finding it out,” said the shipper dogmatically. “If there had
really been anything to find out, don’t you suppose we would have found
it out in all these years? Why, I’ve been oystering thirty years and I
never heard of such nonsense before. But I suppose boys will be boys. We
all have to have our fling. Now that I know you’re both so set on this
foolishness I wouldn’t say another word if it wasn’t for this business
to-night. Alec means to live aboard the _Osprey_ most of the summer and
I don’t like the idea. Why, anybody can come aboard of her in the middle
of the night and do anything he likes. We can’t always be waiting on the
wireless to get this youngster out of trouble. I tell you I don’t like
At the mention of danger to Alec, Elsa’s face went pale. Presently she
fell into a brown study, from which she awoke only when she heard her
father say, “For goodness sake! Look at the clock! We must be getting to
He and Mrs. Rumford bustled off, after bidding Alec a hearty good night.
“Now, don’t you youngsters stay up any longer,” said the captain, when
Elsa lingered behind.
“We won’t,” said Elsa. Then she turned to Alec. “It makes me sick to
think of you alone in the _Osprey_ at night, now that you have had this
trouble with Tom Hardy. Yet you mustn’t quit your investigation, either,
Alec. Won’t you come home at night and sleep ashore?”
“I can’t, Elsa. Think of all the time I should waste, sailing back and
forth. I can never get over all the oyster grounds as it is. But I can
do a great deal if I am right on the job all the time. And besides, I
don’t really believe there’s any danger at all. That gang has had a
lesson that will make them pretty careful. They have seen what wireless
will do, and they can never be sure what I might do with it.”
“You mustn’t trust to the wireless, Alec. You must be on your guard all
the time. If you insist upon sleeping in the _Osprey_, you must pass the
nights where nobody can find you. I know a place where you can hide
easily, where you couldn’t be found in a week. To-morrow I’m going out
to the Bay with you and show you the place. I shall feel better about
you when I know you are safe there at night. I wouldn’t ever run in to
the place until after dark. Then if you douse your light nobody can see
where you go, and your hiding-place will never be known.”
“Bully for you!” cried Alec. “I needed help to-morrow the worst way
possible. I’m going to study old Hardy’s oyster-beds, and I want to make
the best job possible.”
“Whenever you need help, Alec, don’t hesitate to ask me. I’ll help you
whenever I can.”
“Elsa,” said Alec, his eyes shining, “nobody ever had a better friend
than you have been to me. I owe my life to you. I can’t tell you—-” He
broke off short, afraid to say any more.
Just then a great voice boomed in the hallway. “Are you youngsters going
to talk all night?”
“Good night,” said Elsa. She held out her hand to Alec. And he was a
surprisingly long time letting go of it.
Despite the late hour of retirement, the shipper’s household was astir
at the usual time next morning, and that was pretty early. The minute
breakfast was eaten the shipper hurried away to superintend the
overhauling of his boats, and Elsa and Alec drove to the oyster wharf,
laden with a generous luncheon that Mrs. Rumford had packed for them.
“We’ll need a setting-pole,” said Elsa, as they were about to board the
_Osprey_. “It will be necessary to push the boat into the little harbor
I’m going to show you.”
Alec borrowed a setting-pole and the two were soon afloat. The day
promised to be hot. The sun had risen like a ball of fire. Hardly a
cloud flecked the wide expanse of blue sky. But there was a fair breeze
blowing, which promised to temper the heat. But neither Elsa nor Alec
cared whether it was hot or cold. They were together, and they were
engaged in a business of prime importance. Life had a zest that could
have been found in no mere idle holiday.
With business of such importance to perform, they could not wait for
the winds to carry them, but Alec started his motor and the _Osprey_
went chugging swiftly toward the oyster grounds. About them rose a very
sea of reeds and other marsh growths, now beautiful in their soft green,
summer hues, and stretching level as a floor.
In a surprisingly short time the _Osprey_ had crossed the bar and was
fairly in the Bay. The gray-green water rolled so gently before the soft
breath of the wind that the _Osprey_ rose and fell hardly at all.
Occasionally a little wave came slap! against the boat, sending a shower
of spray aboard, but the occupants of the boat merely laughed when they
Suddenly Alec bent forward and fastened his gaze on some distant object.
Then, after a moment’s study, “What do you suppose those white things
are on those stakes?” he asked.
Elsa looked. “Pieces of white cloth,” she said after some study.
Alec was puzzled. “You notice that all four corners of the bed are
marked with white,” he said.
The _Osprey_ drew near to the marked stakes. Alec turned and faced
landward. “I know what it means,” he cried. “That’s your father’s new
bed. It’s right in line with both sets of landmarks. Those thieves must
have marked the stakes sometime during the day, so that they could see
the corners easily in the dark. It can’t be very much farther to Tom
Hardy’s bed. Hawley told me how to locate it. I reckon it’ll be on the
market before long. I want to have a good look at it.”
Alec paused to think over Hawley’s directions. “There!” he cried
suddenly. “See that dead tree with the fish-hawk’s nest in it? It’s just
in line with those three big oaks that stand by themselves. We’re all
right in that direction. Off here we ought to have a little clump of
trees directly in line with the first range-light.” He turned and
studied the shore-line in the other direction. “There! Now we’ve got it
exactly,” he cried a moment later. “This must be Hardy’s bed.”
“There are some corner stakes,” said Elsa. And after a moment’s search,
she added, “There is another corner.”
Quickly they found a third corner, but the stakes that marked the fourth
corner were missing entirely. “It doesn’t matter,” said Alec. “Three
corners are just as good as four. This bed looks as though it were
oblong and at least twice as wide as it is long. When he staked it out,
I suppose Jim Hawley reckoned he could dredge faster if he could plow
long furrows, as the farmers back home would say. It isn’t a bad idea.
I’ll keep it in mind when I lay out my grounds. It’s making so many
turns that wastes time, whether you’re dredging or plowing.”
“What shall we do first?” said Elsa. “Let’s get right to work.”
“We’ll take soundings,” said Alec. “We’ll make a few turns right across
one end of the bed, then try it lengthwise. We want to make a very
thorough study of these grounds, for if Captain Hardy didn’t steal his
oysters, then he’s got a very good bed.”
From the cabin Alec brought a big sheet of paper, which he fastened to
the cabin-top. On it he marked the positions of the four corner stakes.
“This will give us plenty of room to make notes on,” he said. “Later we
can copy what we like on the map of the beds. I’ll just put down the
date and the state of the tide and the weather.” He wrote on the paper
and handed his pencil to Elsa. “I’ll sound if you’ll make the entries,”
“I can steer, too,” said Elsa. She took the paper and sat down by the
Alec closed the throttle of the engine. The _Osprey_ at once dropped to
very low speed. Alec got his line ready, and lowered it. “Fifteen feet,”
he called. Elsa entered the figures on the temporary chart. A few
fathoms away he cast the lead again. “Fourteen feet, nine inches,” he
called. A few rods farther along the line registered fifteen feet, one
inch. So it went straight across the bed, the bottom being practically
“I’ll make one more cast,” said Alec. “Then you swing her to port and
we’ll cut right back across the bed again.”
The _Osprey_ was almost at the outer boundary of the grounds. Alec
dropped his lead. “Hello!” he cried in surprise, as he watched the line.
“Got eighteen feet here! That’s funny. Just keep her straight for a few
rods. I want to see how wide this hole is.” The depth continued constant
at eighteen feet. “That’s queer,” commented Alec. “Bring her about.
We’ll see how it is a few fathoms farther down-stream.”
Elsa brought the _Osprey_ about as directed. “Still eighteen feet,” said
Alec, sounding repeatedly. They came to the boundary of Hardy’s bed.
“Eighteen feet,” called Alec. Before Elsa could get it written down, he
called again, “Fifteen feet.” And eighteen feet it continued all the way
across the bed.
Once more they came about and crossed the bed still farther down-stream.
Again the lead showed fifteen feet, almost to the edge of the bed, when
the line suddenly paid out an additional three feet.
“We’ll just cover the entire bed this way,” said Alec, “instead of
running lengthwise as we had planned. It looks to me as though there is
a regular trough in the bottom, running right along the edge of this
bed. I’d like to know how wide and how long it is. I wonder what ever
could have scooped out such a furrow in the mud.”
They kept on, crossing and recrossing the oyster-bed, until they had
sounded it from end to end. And at every trip across the bed they got
practically the same figures–fifteen feet in Captain Hardy’s grounds
and eighteen along the edge.
“Do you know,” said Alec, when he had finished sounding and had reeled
up the line, “I once read that the Hudson River can be followed to sea
for three hundred miles. That is, there is a distinct furrow or channel
in the ocean bottom leading straight from the mouth of the Hudson, as
though something had come down that stream and gouged a great ditch in
the ocean floor. I reckon it must have been done centuries ago by
glacial ice or something of the sort. Anyway, it looks to me as though
there is something like that ditch right here in the bottom of the
“I wonder what could have made it?” queried Elsa. “Would it make any
difference in the oyster-beds along it?”
“By George!” cried Alec, suddenly afire with an idea. “It would make a
thundering big slick, that’s what it would do, and if my oyster bulletin
is correct, that ought to be a prime place for larvæ.” He began to
examine the water carefully. “That’s exactly what it does,” he cried,
after studying the water far and wide. “We’re right in the slick now.
It’s so big we didn’t notice it.”
“I guess we were too busy talking to pay attention,” suggested Elsa, “or
we should have noticed it long ago.”
“Well, I can hardly wait to test the water and see what we find,” said
Alec. “Conditions are just right this morning. The tide has about three
feet to rise yet. There ought to be as many oyster fry swimming about
now as there ever will be. We’ll make as many tests as we can. And we
won’t strain out so much water as we did the other time. It takes too
long. If we test twenty-five quarts of water, that will give us enough
to go on. Then we can make more tests.”
Quickly Alec had his instruments ready and they began to strain water
from the bottom through the bolting-cloth net. Then the sediment was
washed into a bottle. While that was settling, they moved on to another
spot and strained more water. So they continued until they had several
“Now you begin to count the larvæ,” suggested Elsa. “The sediment has
all settled in those bottles that we filled first. I will strain out
more water while you are using the microscope.”
As rapidly as he could, Alec got the sediment on his watch crystals and
counted the larvæ. As long as he could hold himself to the trying task
Alec continued with his eye to the microscope, picking over the
crystalfuls of sediment with his little needles.
“The water’s full of them,” he cried at last, leaving his microscope.
“It’s been a mighty poor spawning season, with so much cold weather,
though it’s warm enough to-day. Yet right here there is no end to the
spat. There are ten times as many larvæ here as we found in that ground
we tested the other day. Why, that twenty-five quarts yielded 3,400
larvæ,” and he picked up the bottle he had just emptied. “The bed’s just
swarming with spat.”
He stepped to the engine and threw on more power. Then he took the
tiller. “I want to test a sample from that trough or ditch. And by the
way, I’ll just sound as we go.”
He got out the sounding-line again, and Elsa steered the boat while Alec
took soundings. Almost uniformly the depth continued at eighteen feet.
“We must have come five hundred yards,” said Alec. “We’ll try it here.”
He stopped the engine, and they strained twenty-five quarts of water
from the bottom. When it had settled sufficiently, Alec worked the
sediment out on a watch crystal. Then he began to count.
“Now what do you think of that!” he cried, when he had finished his
count. “Only twenty-five larvæ I could be sure of in all that water!
It’s just as the book says. The fry are all collected in that slick.
That bed of Hardy’s must be one of the very best in the Bay. If only Jim
still owned it!”
By this time it was long past the dinner hour, but the two had been so
intent on their work that they had paid no attention to the time. Now,
however, Alec suddenly awoke to the fact that he was ravenous. “I could
eat a shark,” he cried. “Let’s go to the shore at once and have dinner.”
He started the engine and they headed for the point where they had
previously eaten. With the tide so well up, they had little difficulty
in getting ashore. Alec gathered dry sticks and fixed the fireplace,
while Elsa unpacked the basket Mrs. Rumford had given them. Among other
things, there was a fine cut of beefsteak.
“Oh boy!” exclaimed Alec, when he saw it. “I’m so hungry I could eat it
His fire was already ablaze. He let it burn down to coals, then added a
few twigs at a time. Over this tiny flame Elsa cooked the steak in a
little skillet. Alec, meantime, brought water from the _Osprey_ and got
the coffee ready to cook the instant the steak was done. He also placed
a heavy blanket on the ground under the sheltering tree, and here they
spread out all the good things Mrs. Rumford had given them. There were
pickles and hard-boiled eggs, and sandwiches, and cakes, not to mention
bread and butter and jelly, the steak and the coffee.
“Gracious!” said Alec, when the basket was at last empty. “Your mother
must have thought she was packing lunch for a regiment.”
“She has seen _boys_ eat before,” said Elsa mischievously.
“From which I infer,” retorted Alec, “that you do not wish anything to
eat yourself. It’s just as well, for I think I can get away with all
that steak myself. Please pass it over.”
He took the frying-pan away from her, but it was only because the steak
was cooked and he wanted to sling the coffee-pot over the fire.
Elsa looked distressed. “Aren’t you going to give me any of that steak?”
she cried in pretended consternation.
“I understand from your remarks that this was all intended for me,”
“It will be first-degree murder if you don’t give me some,” said Elsa.
“I’ll surely die of starvation in a few minutes if I don’t get something
At the word murder, the fun died out of Alec’s eyes. “Please don’t,” he
said, “not even in fun. That word murder has come to have a very ugly
sound to me in the last twenty-four hours.”
They were silent a moment. Then such a soft light crept into Elsa’s eyes
that Alec had to jump up and tend the fire to keep control of himself.
At last the meal was eaten. “I’m too full to do another stroke of work,”
“Then we’ll go take a look at the little harbor I have picked out for
They poured water on the fire to make sure it was completely
extinguished, then gathered up the remnants of the feast, and once more
boarded the _Osprey_. For half a mile they chugged along the shore. Then
they came abreast of a little clump of trees that rose some few hundred
feet inland, apparently in the very heart of the marsh.
“There’s your harbor,” said Elsa, pointing to the tree clump.
“But how are we going to get to it?” demanded Alec, searching everywhere
for an inlet.
“Wait until the largest two trees come in line,” said Elsa. “Then go
Alec slowed down the _Osprey_ and continued along the shore until the
trees indicated were in line. Then he headed directly toward them. In
the reeds that lined the shore he noted a tiny opening, like the mouth
of the merest tunnel; but it proved to be both wider and deeper than he
would have believed. The reeds that choked the little channel bent to
right and left as the _Osprey_ slowly forged ahead, then swiftly righted
themselves, forming a screen behind the boat. Had there been no mast in
the _Osprey_, she would have been completely concealed before she had
gone a hundred feet. The clump of trees stood not more than five hundred
feet from the open water of the Bay. The little channel ran almost
straight toward it. Alec shut off his engine and pushed the _Osprey_
along with the setting-pole. The little boat slipped through the reeds
as quietly as a floating duck. As they came near the trees, Alec saw
that there were really two clumps of them standing close together on two
tiny islands, with the tiniest little channel between them. Alec pushed
the _Osprey_ forward until it came to rest in this little channel,
directly between the two islands. So narrow was this passage that he
could almost have stepped ashore on either side of this boat.
“Now we are completely hidden,” said Elsa. “The reeds hide the hull of
the boat and the trees conceal the mast and rigging. A person out on the
Bay could search this clump for an hour with the most powerful telescope
and I doubt if he would ever discover there is a boat moored here. It’s
the finest little hiding-place I know of. It has one drawback, though.
You can’t get in and out when the tide is real low.”
Alec gazed about him with delight. The snug little harbor made him
think of a pirate’s refuge. “It certainly is a bully hiding-place,” he
said, “though I suppose most of the old-timers hereabout know of it.”
“I very much doubt it,” said Elsa.
“Then how did you come to know about it?”
“Found it myself,” explained Elsa. “Dad left me to hunt ducks along the
shore, while he put down some stakes in an oyster-bed near by. I wounded
a duck that got away from me. It swam into this little channel and I
followed it. That’s how I came to discover this place. I don’t believe
many folks know about it, for I told Dad about it and he had never heard
“Well, anyway, it makes no difference,” said Alec. “I have no idea
anybody is going to bother me, and if I slip in here after dark and
don’t show any lights, I don’t think anybody would ever find me. What do
you call the place?”
“I never named it,” said Elsa.
“You didn’t? It ought to have a name, sure. What shall we call it? We’ll
give it a name, and that will be a secret all our own.”
“I know,” cried Elsa. “We’ll call this the _Osprey’s_ Nest.”
“Fine! That’s a dandy name. And it’s such a good name for a secret
hiding-place. If anybody heard us talking about it they would think we
meant one of those old trees that have real fish-hawks’ nests in them.
When you hear the name osprey’s nest come buzzing in your receiver,
you’ll know I’m as safe and snug as can be. Why, just to tell you I’m at
the osprey’s nest would mean a whole lot, wouldn’t it? And, by the way,
you can spare a few moments now and then to talk with me with your
wireless, can’t you?”
“Alec!” said Elsa reproachfully. “When I shall hardly see you all
summer! Of course, I’ll talk to you. But I mustn’t keep you from your
work. You mustn’t let me do that, Alec, for I want you to go on with it
and make just the great success that I know you are going to.”
“Well, when shall I call you? You won’t always be at home, you know.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll listen in at one o’clock and at seven, and
when Arlington sends out the time, whenever I’m at home; and that will
be most always.”
“Thank you,” said Alec. “It will be pretty lonely out here all by
myself.” He glanced at the clock in the cabin. “Whew!” he whistled.
“Look at the time. We must be getting to work at once.”
“All right. What shall we do first?”
“I ought to finish this work with the microscope. These larvæ ought to
have a few drops of formaldehyde on them if they aren’t counted pretty
soon; and I haven’t any. So I guess I’ll go on with my counting.”
“Then we might just as well stay here,” said Elsa. “It’s a good deal
cooler here in the shade of the trees than it would be out on the
water. It’s too bad there’s nothing I can do to help you. Are you sure
there’s nothing I can do?”
Alec looked at his comrade steadily for a moment. “Elsa,” he said, “did
you ever read that beautiful poem of Milton’s in which there is a line
that says something like this: ‘They also serve who only stand and
wait’? You know the reserves are like that. They don’t seem to be doing
much, for a fact, but the fellows in the front line fight a heap sight
better just because they know their comrades are back there, ready to
aid them when necessary. So I wouldn’t say anything more about not being
of use. You know it’s been pretty tough going for me these last few
months since Dad died and I had nobody to fall back on. I can’t tell you
what it means to me to have your friendship and that of your father and
“Thank you, Alec,” said Elsa. “That’s a very fine thing to say. I never
thought of the matter in just that way before. You know I really do want
to help you, and I don’t care whether I help by really assisting in your
work or merely by being with you, now that you put it in that way. The
point is to get the work done. Oh! I think so much is going to come of
all this that I am as eager as can be to get the work finished. Now you
attend to your microscope and I’ll amuse myself with your wireless.”
For a long time there was silence on the _Osprey_. Elsa sat with the
receivers strapped to her ears, now shifting the coupler, now moving a
condenser, now tuning to this wave-length, now to that.
“That’s strange,” Alec heard her mutter to herself, after a long time.
“What’s strange?” he asked.
“Why, somebody has been calling and calling Cape May. And he doesn’t get
any answer. I can’t understand it. I haven’t any idea who is talking. I
never heard his call before. He’s WNA.”
With a bound Alec was beside her. “That’s Roy Mercer on the _Lycoming_,”
he cried. “May I have the receivers a moment, please.”
Alec slipped on the headpiece and sat down at his key. “WNA–WNA–WNA de
3ADH–3ADH–3ADH,” he flashed.
Almost at once came the response. “3ADH–3ADH–3ADH de
“Hello, Roy!” ticked off Alec. “This is Alec Cunningham. Just happened
to hear you calling Cape May. Can’t imagine why they didn’t answer. How
“Fine. How are you? What are you doing?”
“All O. K. Counting oyster larvæ with a microscope just now. Tell you
all about it some day. What are you sailing so early for?”
“New schedule. Going to touch at some West Indian ports and Yucatan on
way to Galveston. Due back here a month from to-day. That’s August
twenty-two. Be sure to watch for me. May have something interesting to
tell you. How are you getting on? Heard from any of the other fellows
of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol?”
For some time the two old comrades talked as fast as they could flash
their messages to each other. Then Alec laid down his receivers and
turned to Elsa. “It certainly is good to hear from Roy,” he said. “He’s
one of the fellows from the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol at home. He’s a
prince, too. No end of pluck and brains. Why, he saved the _Lycoming_
from a collision in a fog, just with his wireless. And he was washed
overboard when he was helping to take a line to the disabled steamer
_Empress_ during a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, and was swept into
Corpus Christi by the tidal wave. He got the news of the disaster there
to the outside world by wireless that he made himself and so got help
for the city. Oh! He’s a wonderful chap. How I wish you knew him. He’s
true as steel. They don’t make any others quite so fine as Roy.”
“If he’s a friend of yours, Alec, I know he’s all right. You wouldn’t
have any other kind of friends. But as for their not making any other
boys as fine as Roy, humph! I guess I know somebody that’s true as steel
“I must hustle along with my job,” said Alec, and he went back to his
Finally, his bottles examined and cleaned and all his apparatus stowed
away, Alec picked up the setting-pole. “It’s time we were heading for
Bivalve,” he said.
He backed the _Osprey_ out from between the islets, turned her, and
pushed his way back to the open water. Then, having a favoring wind, he
hoisted his sail, and the _Osprey_ went skimming over the waves on the
So eager was Alec to return to his investigations that he slipped back
to the oyster-beds that very night, so as to be on hand at the earliest
possible moment next day. His mind was afire, his whole being was keyed
up. He was like a hound on a hot scent. He felt that he had his quarry
almost within his reach. He wanted to press on at top speed until he
grasped the prize. Neither storm nor calm, neither tide nor sickness,
could long have delayed him; for Alec possessed that unusual quality of
mind which made him rise superior to obstacles, once his interest was
thoroughly aroused. Things that to some boys would have appeared as
effective obstacles became to Alec, when he was thus aroused, only
difficulties to be overcome. One by one he had surmounted all the
barriers that he had so far encountered. Each victory made him only the
keener to win another. Of all his struggles, the effort to learn the
truth about the oyster had interested him most deeply, because he knew
that exact knowledge along that line was the very corner-stone of his
success, or, more accurately, of the success he was striving to build.
So daylight found Alec astir and already on his way to Captain Hardy’s
oyster-bed. For the facts that Alec and Elsa had discovered concerning
Hardy’s bed and the existence of the depression in the bottom of the
Bay, had given Alec an idea that he could hardly wait to test out. He
meant to find the entire truth about the little channel. He doubted if
any one else had discovered the little trough or furrow in the bottom of
the Bay, and if they had, he doubted whether its significance had
occurred to the discoverers.
Now he proceeded to the upper end of Hardy’s bed, and, dropping his
lead, found exactly where the edge of the furrow lay. He noted its
position with relation to the corner stakes of the grounds. Then he
proceeded slowly down-stream, sounding as he went, to try to locate the
inner edge of the ditch. For several hundred feet he felt his way along.
Then he took a heavy weight, tied to it a line of the proper length, and
to that he fastened a stick a few feet long, to the upper end of which
he tied a white cloth. He lowered the weight to the bottom, dropping it,
as nearly as he was able, on the very edge of the furrow or ditch in the
mud. Then he adjusted his line so that the stick floated
perpendicularly, holding the white cloth aloft, a foot or two above the
surface of the water. Then he dropped the _Osprey_ down-stream some
hundreds of feet, and once more locating the edge of the depression in
the bottom, made and anchored a second floating marker. Examination
showed him that the three points he had located–the one near Hardy’s
stakes and the two he had marked with flags,–were practically in a
straight line. Once more he headed the _Osprey_ down-stream, proceeding
as far as he could go and still see his markers. Then he sounded, and
found that he was still over the very edge of the depression. Apparently
this depression ran in an almost perfectly straight line. Alec put down
another flag. He now had marked the depression for a good many hundred
Now he went back to his starting-point and began to study the current
and the appearance of the water. The depression extended in exactly the
same direction that the tide followed, so that the water would sweep
straight through it, back and forth, back and forth ceaselessly,
scouring it clean. Alec recalled what Roy had written him about the
jetties at Galveston, and how the tide, sweeping in and out between
them, had deepened the channel. To be sure, there were no jetties here
to confine the flow of the tide to the depression, yet Alec felt sure
that the current would keep the depression clean and perhaps even deepen
it. For all time, at least for all calculable time, so far as he could
see, the depression would remain in the bottom and create a vast slick
along its side. In this slick he believed the oyster fry would be most
Slowly Alec proceeded along the edge of the slick, passing one after
another the markers he had set up, and lifting them as he came to them.
The edge of the slick, of course, followed the line of the depression
in the bottom. Alec knew it ought to do so, and the white flags proved
that it did. On and on went Alec, studying the current, watching every
wave and swirl in the tide. At the same time, he kept before him the map
of the oyster-beds, marking down on the map as accurately as possible
the edge of the slick. How far to the side this slick extended Alec did
not know. He could determine that later. What he did know–at least he
felt sure he knew it–was that every oyster-bed lying in this slick was
a prime oyster ground. He would know for sure when he had made larvæ
tests of water from the different beds.
For two or three miles Alec proceeded. The slick was still plainly
discernible, and whenever Alec took soundings he found that the
depression continued. At last he came to the point for which he was
heading–the last lot of ground that had been staked. Beyond that was a
vast area that any man might claim. So eager to see what he should find,
so fearful and yet so hopeful was Alec, that he almost held his breath
as he bent forward and peered out over the unstaked water. Would the
slick continue through the unleased areas or would it not?
“It does! It does!” cried Alec aloud, as he sailed past the very last
oyster stake. As far as he could see, the water before him was sharply
divided into two areas–one that rippled roughly as the tide swept
onward, the other as smooth as though it had been rubbed with grease.
Into this smooth stretch of water Alec turned the _Osprey_. Then, his
hands atremble with eagerness, he brought forth his testing apparatus
and began to strain water from the bottom through his filter net. Here,
there, over yonder, Alec pumped up water, until he had samples from a
large acreage. His settling bottles were numbered, and on his chart he
marked the location from which each sample came. At the same time he
took soundings and tested the water for density and temperature. All
these things he likewise set down on his chart. So eager was he to begin
his count, that he could scarcely wait to stow away his instruments when
he had done straining water. But when he started to use his microscope,
he found that the wind had freshened so much he could not work well. It
was blowing directly against the current, throwing up sizable rollers,
and the _Osprey_ was too unsteady for the trying work in hand. There was
nothing to do but get to smooth water, and that meant to leave the Bay,
for now whitecaps were breaking everywhere.
At first Alec hardly knew where to go. He thought of running into the
mouth of the river. But that idea did not please him because passing
boatmen might annoy him or at least interrupt him. And anyway, Alec
preferred to carry on his investigations without others knowing about
them. He had learned pretty well the fact that not everybody was to be
trusted. Alec also thought of going to the point of land where he and
Elsa had eaten their dinner. That did not seem altogether suitable,
either. Finally he decided to head for the _Osprey’s_ Nest. If no one
was in sight when he got there, he would go in. If any one were by to
watch him, he would pull into some neighboring inlet. As fast as his
engine would take him, Alec drove through the waves. When he reached the
shore just off the _Osprey’s_ Nest, not a boat of any sort was in sight.
He shut off his power, pushed his little craft up the secret channel,
and soon lay at anchor in his snug retreat. The shade was grateful and
the _Osprey_ was as steady as a rock. He could work in comfort and in
Hour after hour Alec stuck to his job. At times his eyes ached so from
the strain that he had to leave his microscope and bathe them in the
salt sea water that he dipped up with a bucket. At noon he paused long
enough to cook himself a warm meal and flash a greeting to Elsa. Then he
went on with his work. As long as he could hold himself to his task he
continued to count. Bottle after bottle he emptied, picking out one by
one with his little needle thousands upon thousands of oyster larvæ.
Again and again, as the day wore on, he laid down his implements,
meaning to quit. And as often he picked them up after an interval, to do
just a little bit more. There were limits to his endurance. His eyes
would function only so long. But his soul was indomitable. So he kept on
and on and on, until dusk found him with his task completed. When he
talked to Elsa that night he was able to tell her that he had found the
great secret. At least he believed he had. He had discovered an
unstaked area that he believed to be as good a place for oysters as any
ground in the Bay.
Long after he turned away from his wireless, Alec sat on the deck of the
_Osprey_. By every rule of the game he should have been asleep in his
bunk. Physically he was worn out by the strain of his intense
concentration. But mentally he was afire. The task that had tired his
body had stimulated his brain to unusual activity. His vision was almost
prophetic. He pictured the future as he wished it to be. And though his
mental image was not an exact representation of life as it proved to be,
it was a marvelous approximation. Nor was that strange. For Alec was
learning that the more sharply he defined his ambitions, and the more
exactly he pictured his path, the more likely he was to see his dreams
become realities. He needed a map for his life, just as truly as he
needed a chart for his oyster-beds.
Now, as he sat, silent, in the _Osprey_, his mind aglow with rosy
pictures, the difficulties that once had seemed so insurmountable shrank
and shrank until they appeared but mole-hills. Though he did not put it
in so many words, Alec was coming to realize that a big accomplishment
is only a great dream backed by prodigious labor. Labor is the thing it
is made of, but without the inspiration of the dream the labor is
impossible. So he let himself dream on and on in the darkness, resting
on some soft cushions, listening to the gentle sigh of the wind as it
stirred the leaves above his head, dimly conscious of the stirrings of
birds, the faint splashings of muskrats in the marsh above him, the
quavering call of a distant owl. Overhead the stars twinkled. Light
patches of cloud floated in the sky. The waters of the Bay washed the
shores gently but audibly. The world was in repose. And at last Alec
slept with it.