Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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He broke off and sat smoking silently for a while, looking at the skins.

"They seem to have taken your fancy," Mr. Oliver observed presently.

"It's a fact," Mr. Barclay assented. "I was just thinking I'd like to take that big one and the other yonder home with me. My daughter Minnie visits East in the winter now and then, and she's fond of furs, though so far I haven't been able to buy her any particularly smart ones. There's a man I know in Portland who can fix up a skin as well as any one in London. He was a good many years in Alaska trading furs for the A. C. C., and some of the Russians who stayed behind there taught him to dress them."

Mr. Oliver laughed. "I suppose the thing is quite out of the question?"

"It is," said Mr. Barclay dryly. "You ought to know that the United States charges a big duty on foreign furs."

"On foreign ones!" broke in Harry, nudging Frank. "A seal born on an American beach could certainly be considered an American seal."

"When you import goods into the United States you require a certificate of origin, young man."

"That fixes the thing," said Harry. "On your own showing, those seals originated on the Pribyloffs. They're American."

"Ingenious!" exclaimed Mr. Barclay, with a longing glance at the skins. "There's some reason in that contention, but won't you go on? You don't seem to have got through yet."

"In case you felt justified in taking a skin or two," continued Harry thoughtfully, "I'd like to point out that, as a rule, the Customs fellows don't trouble about a sloop the size of ours. We just run up to our moorings when we come back from a yachting trip, and there's a nice little nook forward which would just hold a bundle of those peltries. It's hidden beneath the second cable."

Mr. Barclay picked up a piece of shingle and flung it at him.

"You can stop right now before you get yourself into difficulties. What do you mean by proposing a smuggling deal to a man connected with the United States revenue?"

"I'm sorry," Harry answered with a chuckle. "I should have waited until the rest had gone."

Mr. Barclay regarded him severely, though his eyes twinkled.

"Your smartness is going to make trouble for you by and by," he said. "Go and see what that Siwash is doing about our supper."

Harry moved away, but presently came back to announce that the meal was ready. When it was over the boys strolled off toward the reef, leaving the men sitting smoking on the beach.

"That boy of yours told me what seemed a rather curious thing last night," said Mr. Barclay, and he briefly ran over what Harry had related about the man with the peculiar shoulder.

Mr. Oliver listened in evident astonishment.

"It's the first time I've heard of the matter," he exclaimed. "What do you make of it?"

"In the meanwhile I don't quite know what to think. If that man is boss of the gang it explains a good deal that has been puzzling me, but I must own it's considerably more than I expected.

The general idea was that he'd cleared out of the country, which would have been a very natural course in view of the fact that he'd probably have been sandbagged if he'd show himself after dark on any wharf of two of the coast states. Anyway, your son's description was quite straight. He seemed sure of him."

"Harry's eyes are as good as yours or mine," said Mr. Oliver with a smile. Mr. Barclay wrinkled his brow.

"There's a point that struck me – though I can't say if it explains the thing. The boy's only young yet, he has imagination and, it's possible, a fondness for detective literature, like the rest of them. Now we'll assume that he had heard of a certain sensational case – a particularly grewsome crime on board an American ship – and the arrest of the rascal accused of it. I needn't point out that the fellow only escaped on a technical point of law and that his picture figured in some of the papers. Isn't that the kind of thing that's likely to make a marked impression on the youthful mind?"

"I can see two objections," responded Mr. Oliver. "In the first place, Harry was away in Idaho while the case was going on. The second one's more important. Harry might try to put the laugh on you, as he did not long ago, but when he makes a concise statement it's to be relied upon. In such a case I've never known him to let his imagination run away with him."

Mr. Barclay spread his hands out in a deprecatory manner.

"Then we'll take the thing for granted, and it certainly simplifies the affair. I'd no trouble in finding the Chinese colony, and though I've no idea how they get the dope, that doesn't matter. The point is that it's very seldom anybody is likely to disturb them in this part of the bush, and there are two inlets handy. A schooner could slip in here a dozen times without being noticed by anybody except the Siwash. Then we have the fact that a notorious rascal who has evidently a hand in the thing was seen heading for the Chinese colony. It seems to me decisive."

"What are you going to do about it?" Mr. Oliver asked.

"Wait and keep my eyes open. If it appears advisable I may communicate with the Canadian authorities later on, though, of course, we must contrive to get our hands on the fellows in American waters. I've an idea it can be done."

Mr. Oliver said nothing further, and by and by, when a thin haze rolled down from the hillside and night closed in, they strolled toward the rancherie, where they were given a strip of floor space not far from the entrance. The boys came in a little later and lay down apart from them and nearer the door, but Frank did not go to sleep. The rancherie was hot and the dull roar of the combers on the reef came throbbing in and made him restless. He lay still for what seemed a considerable time, and at last there was a low sound which might have been made by somebody rising stealthily, after which a dim black object flitted out of the door. Then Harry, who lay close to him, touched his arm.

"Are you asleep?" he asked very softly.

"No," answered Frank. "Where's that fellow going?"

"Get out as quietly as you can," was Harry's reply.

Frank had kept his shirt and trousers on, and after feeling for his boots he arose cautiously, holding them in his hand. In another moment or two he had slipped out into the cool night air and was crossing the shingle in his stockinged feet. Once or twice a stone rattled, but he supposed the sound was lost in the clamor of the reef, for nobody seemed to hear it. When they had left the rancherie some distance behind they sat down.

"Now," said Harry, "I'll tell you my idea. They're expecting the schooner and don't want her to run in while we're about. They've probably had a man on the lookout down by the entrance, and I expect the fellow who went out has been sent by the boss or Tyee to learn if the other one has seen her."

"It's curious some of them didn't hear us," Frank observed thoughtfully.

"I'm not sure that they didn't," Harry admitted. "Anyway, they couldn't stop us without some excuse, and, if I'm right, they certainly wouldn't want to tell us why they wished us to stay in. Of course," he added, "it might make them suspicious, but I don't know any reason why we should point that out to Barclay. The great thing is to keep out of sight in case they follow us."

They put on their boots and crept along in the gloom beneath the rock, heading toward the reefs. A little breeze blew down the hollow, setting the dark firs to sighing, and part of the inlet lay black in their shadow. The rest sparkled in the light of a half-moon which had just risen above the crest of the hill. They could hear the soft splash and tinkle of water rippling among the stones, but now and then this sound was drowned as the roar of the reef grew louder and deeper. Presently a dim, filmy whiteness in front of them resolved itself into a glimmering spray cloud and fountains of spouting foam, and when at length they stopped among a cluster of wet boulders they could see a black ridge of rock thrusting itself out, half buried, into a mad turmoil of frothing water. It lay in the shadow of the rock, and there was no moonlight on the ghostly combers which came seething down upon it. A little outshore, however, the sea sparkled with a silvery radiance except where the shadow of a black head fell upon it. There was not more than a moderate breeze, but the Pacific surge breaks upon and roars about those reefs continually.

A little thrill ran through Frank as he leaned upon one of the wet boulders. It was the first time he had trodden a Pacific beach, and he realized that he had now reached the outermost verge of the West. He could go no farther. The ocean barred his progress, and beyond it lay different lands, whose dark-skinned peoples spoke in other tongues. The white man's civilization stopped short where he stood. Then as he watched the ceaseless shoreward rush of the big combers and looked up at black rock and climbing pines, a strange delight in the new life he led crept into his heart. Dusky shadow and silvery moonlight seemed filled with glamour, and he was learning to love the wilderness as he could never have loved the cities. Besides, he was there to watch for the mysterious schooner, and that alone was sufficient to stir him and put a tension on his nerves. It was more than possible that there were other watchers hidden somewhere in the gloom.

He did not know how long they waited, with the salt spray stinging their faces and the diapason of the surf in their ears, but at last she came, breaking upon his sight suddenly and strangely, as he felt it was most fitting that she should do. Her black headsails swept out of the shadow of the neighboring head, the tall boom-foresail followed, and a second later he saw the greater spread of her after canvas. She drove on, growing larger, into a strip of moonlight, when, for the wind was off the shore, he saw her hull hove up on the side toward him, with the water flashing beneath it and frothing white at her bows.

"She's close-hauled," said Harry. "They'll stretch across to the other side and then put the helm down and let her reach in. It's a mighty awkward place to make when the wind's blowing out."

She plunged once more into the shadow, but Frank could still see her more or less plainly – a tall, slanted mass of canvas flitting swiftly through the dusky blueness of the night. She edged close in with the reef, still carrying everything except her main gaff-topsail, and then as her headsails swept across the entrance the splash of a paddle reached the boys faintly through the clamor of the surf and they heard a hoarse shout.

"There's a canoe yonder," announced Harry. "The Siwash in her is hailing them. They've heard him. Her peak's coming down."

A clatter of blocks broke out and the upper half of the tall mainsail suddenly collapsed. Then the schooner's bows swung around a little until they pointed to the seething froth upon the opposite beach.

"What are they doing?" Frank asked. "She's going straight ashore."

Harry laughed excitedly. "No," he said, "that Siwash has told them to clear out again, and it will want smart work to get her round in this narrow water. They've dropped the mainsail peak because she wouldn't fall off fast enough."

Frank watched her eagerly for the next moment or two. Her bows were swinging around, but they were swinging slowly, and the beach with the white surf upon it seemed ominously close ahead. He saw two black figures go scrambling forward and haul the staysail to windward, but she was still forging across the inlet. Then her bows fell off a little farther, the trailing gaff swung out with a bang, and Frank saw the masts fall into line with him and a bent figure behind the deckhouse struggling with the wheel. In another moment her mainsail came over with a crash and she was flitting out to sea again.

"Now," cried Harry, "back up the beach for your life! We're going in swimming!"

"You can do what you like," grunted Frank. "I'm heading straight for the rancherie."

"After the swim," urged Harry. "Get a move on and loose your things as you run. I'll explain later."

He ran on, flinging off his clothes, and plunged into the water when they drew near the rancherie. In another moment or two Frank waded in after him and was glad he had done so when he heard the soft splash of a canoe paddle somewhere in the gloom. He fancied that the Siwash would see them, which, as he realized, was what Harry had desired. They were some distance from the mouth of the inlet and he did not think the schooner would have been visible from the spot, which led him to believe that if the Indians had noticed their absence their present occupation might serve as an excuse for it.

He did not see the canoe reach the beach, but in two or three minutes Harry suggested that they might as well go out, and putting on some of their clothes they made for the rancherie. Creeping into it softly, they lay down and soon afterward went to sleep.

CHAPTER XIV
A TEST OF ENDURANCE

The boys were sitting on the beach next morning after breakfast when Mr. Oliver looked across at Harry, who had not yet said anything about their adventures.

"What were you two doing last night?" he asked casually.

Harry started. "Then you heard us?"

"I did," said his father. "You were out of the door before I quite realized what was going on, and it didn't seem altogether wise to commence talking when you came back, but that's not the point. You haven't answered my question."

"We went in swimming," Harry informed him with a grin.

"Considering that most people would prefer to swim in daylight, I wonder if you had any particular reason for choosing the middle of the night?" mused Mr. Oliver thoughtfully.

"Why, yes," was Harry's answer. "I've a notion it was rather a good one. I wanted the Siwash to see us in the water, because it would explain the thing. There were at least two of them about the beach, though only one left the rancherie after we came into it."

"Then the fellow must have gone out a good deal more quietly than you did, because I didn't hear him. I suppose you felt you had to get after him and see what he was doing?"

Mr. Barclay smiled and waved his hand.

"Sure," he broke in. "The temptation would be irresistible. What else would you expect from two enterprising youngsters like these, who have no doubt been studying detective literature and the exploits of other young men in the brave old jayhawking days?"

A flush crept into Harry's face, but he answered quietly:

"Well, it's perhaps as well we went, because I can tell you what the Siwash were watching for. We saw the schooner."

Mr. Barclay gave a sudden start and cast a significant glance at Mr. Oliver.

"The dramatic climax! There's no doubt you have sprung it upon us smartly, but now you have worked it off you can go ahead with the tale."

Harry told him what they had seen and when he had finished Mr. Barclay seemed to be considering the matter ponderously. Then he turned to Mr. Oliver.

"It seems to me there's nothing more to keep us here."

"No," said the rancher. "On the other hand, it might, perhaps, be better if we waited until those canoes arrive – if it's only for the look of the thing."

His companion made a sign of agreement and neither one said anything further on the subject. The boys lounged about the beach and gathered delicious berries in the woods most of the day, and on the following day two more canoes ran in. Their crews had, however, traded off their peltries somewhere else, and shortly after their arrival Mr. Oliver and his party left the inlet in the canoe which he had sent the Indians back to bring. The weather had changed in the night, and when they paddled down the strip of sheltered water their ears were filled with the clamor of the surf, and the hillsides were lost in thin drizzle and sliding mist. A filmy spray cloud hung about the entrance, and beyond it big, gray combers tipped with froth came rolling up in long succession. The sight of them affected Frank disagreeably, and he was not astonished when Mr. Oliver, who spoke to one of the Indians, suggested that he and Harry had better help with the spare paddles until they were far enough off shore to get the masts up.

Frank found it hard enough work, for the sea was almost ahead and the canoe lurched viciously, pitching her bows out. The crag beyond the inlet, however, still slightly sheltered them, and straining at the paddle with the rain in their faces they made shift to drive her over the big, gray-sided ridges, though every now and then the frothing top of one came splashing in. At length one of the Siwash lifted the short mast forward into its place, and thrusting in the sprit, shook loose the sail. His companion, who knelt aft gripping a long-bladed paddle, seized the sheet, and the craft, gathering speed, headed out toward the point to lee of them. When she had cleared it the Siwash raised a second mast farther aft, and setting the sail upon it, slacked both sheets, after which the canoe drove away at what seemed to Frank an astonishing pace. As a matter of fact, she was traveling very fast, for a narrow, shallow-bodied craft of that kind is very speedy so long as the wind is more or less behind her.

Sitting with his back against her hove-up weather side he noticed rather uneasily that the opposite one was almost level with the brine. Then he glanced astern at the combers that followed them, and was by no means comforted by the sight. They were unlike the short, tumbling waves he had seen already in land-locked water, for they were larger and longer, and swept up with a kind of stately swing until they broke into seething foam. Their rise and fall seemed measured, and they rolled on in their ceaseless march in well-ordered ranks. It struck him that the canoe was carrying a dangerous press of sail, but nobody else appeared disturbed, and he admitted that the Indians probably knew how much it was safe to spread.

"Isn't she making a great pace?" he asked of Mr. Oliver, who sat nearest him.

"Yes," was the answer, "I've made two or three trips in these canoes, but I never saw one driven quite so hard. These fellows are probably afraid the breeze will freshen up, and want to get as far as possible before it does."

They ran on for a couple of hours, seeing nothing but the ranks of tumbling combers, except at intervals when the haze thinned a little and they made out a shadowy mass which might have been high and rocky land over the port side. In the meanwhile the seas were steadily getting bigger, and a good deal of water came in at irregular intervals. By and by, the boys were kept busy bailing it out, and the Indian who was not steering held the sheet of the larger sail.

At length, when the tops of two or three seas splashed in over the foam-washed stern in quick succession, the helmsman raised his hand and there was a wild thrashing as his companion loosened the after-sheet. Rolling the sail together he flung the mast down, and the canoe ran on with only the forward one set, which seemed to Frank quite sufficient. The sea was on her quarter, and each comber that came up boiled about her in a great surge of foam, and heaved her up before it left her to sink dizzily into the hollow. Each time she did so Frank was conscious of a curious and unpleasant feeling in his interior.

He had, however, no difficulty in eating his share of the crackers and canned provisions Mr. Oliver presently handed around, and after that he was kept too busy bailing to notice anything until late in the afternoon when he heard the two Indians muttering to one another. The result of the discussion was that one of them pulled the sprit out, and folding down the peak left only a small three-cornered strip of sail. Frank understood the cause for this when he glanced at the seas, which looked alarmingly big. It was disconcerting to realize that they could take no more sail off the canoe unless they lowered the mast altogether, and where the beach was he could not tell. He had seen no sign of it for the last two hours, and it was now raining viciously hard.

Nobody seemed inclined to talk, and there was only the roar and splash of the combers behind them as they drove wildly on, until when dusk was close at hand the dim shadow of a hill rose up suddenly on one side of them. Then the Indian hauled the sheet, and presently when the water became smoother, called to his companion, who thrust the sprit up again. After that the canoe put her lee side in every now and then, but very soon a foam-fringed point stretched out ahead. They swept around it, and after skirting a half-seen, rocky beach ran with spritsail thrashing into a little basin down to which there crept rows of mist-wrapped trees.

Frank was thankful to get out when the helmsman ran her ashore, and the work of assisting the Indians to chop branches and make a fire put a little warmth into him. They made supper when darkness closed down, and afterward the Indians erected a rude branch-and-bark shelter, while the white men and the boys huddled together in the tent. It was better than sitting in the foam-swept canoe, but Frank longed for the sloop's low-roofed cabin.



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