The Silver Horde by Rex Ellingwood Beach
Chapter XVII. A New Enemy Appears
When Boyd returned some two hours later he found the dock deserted save for Big George, who prowled watchfully about the freight piles.
"Well, did you fix it up?" the fisherman inquired.
"No," exclaimed Boyd. "It's a rank frame-up, and I refused to be bled."
"Good for you."
"There are some things a fellow's manhood won't stand for. I'll carry that freight aboard with my own hands before I'll be robbed by a labor union at the bidding of Willis Marsh."
"Say! Will you let me load this ship my way?" George asked.
"Can you do it?"
Balt's thick lips drew back from his yellow teeth in that smile which Emerson had come to recognize as a harbinger of the violent acts that rejoiced his lawless soul.
"Listen," said he, with a chuckle. "Down the street yonder I've got a hundred fishermen. Half of them are drunk at this minute, and the rest are half drunk."
"Then they are of no use to us."
"I don't reckon you ever seen a herd of Kalvik fishermen out of a job, did you? Well, there's just two things they know, fishing and fighting, and this ain't the fishing season. When they hit Seattle, the police force goes up into the residence section and stufts cotton in its ears, because the only thing that is strong enough to stand between a uniform and a fisherman is a hill."
"Can you induce them to work?"
"I can. All I'm afraid of is that I can't induce them to quit. They're liable to put this freight aboard The Bedford Castle, and then pull down the dock in a spirit of playfulness and pile it in Captain Peasley's cabin. There ain't no convulsion of nature that's equal to a gang of idle fishermen."
"When can they begin?"
"Well, it will take me all night to round them up, and I'll have to lick four or five, but there ought to be a dozen or two on hand in the morning." George cast a roving eye over the warehouse from the heavy planking under foot to the wide-spanning rafters above. "Yes," he concluded, "I don't see nothing breakable, so I guess it's safe."
"Would you like me to go with you?"
The giant considered him speculatively. "I don't think so. I ain't never seen you in action. No, you better stay here and arrange to guard this stuff till morning. I'll do the rest."
Boyd did not see him again that day, nor at the hotel during the evening, but on the following morning, true to his word, the big fellow walked into the warehouse followed by a score or more of fishermen. At first sight there was nothing imposing about these men: they were rough-garbed and unkempt, in the main; but upon closer observation Boyd noticed that they were thick-chested and broad-shouldered, and walked with the swinging gait that comes from heaving decks. While the majority of them were neither distinctly American nor markedly foreign in appearance, being rather of that composite caste that peoples the outer reaches of the far West, they were all deeply browned by sun and weather, and spoke the universal idiom of the sea. There were men here from Finland and Florida, Portugal and Maine, fused into one nondescript type by the melting-pot of the frontier. Some wore the northern mackinaw in spite of the balmy April morning, others were dressed like ranch hands on circus day, and a few with the ornateness of Butte miners on parade.
Certain ones displayed fresh contusions on cheek and jaw, or peered forth from lately blackened eyes, and these, Boyd noticed, invariably fawned upon Big George or treated him with elephantine playfulness, winking swollen lids at him in a mysterious understanding which puzzled the young man, until he saw that Balt himself bore similar signs of strife. The big man's lips were cut, while back of one ear a knot had sprung up over night like a fungus.
They fell to work quickly, stripping themselves to their undershirts; they manned the hoists, seized trucks and bale-hooks, and began their tasks with a thoroughly non-union energy. Some of them were still so drunk that they staggered, their awkwardness affording huge sport to their companions, yet even in their intoxication they were surprisingly capable. There was a great deal of laughter and disorder on every hand, and all made frequent trips to the water-taps, returning adrip to the waist, their hair and beards bejewelled with drops. Boyd saw one, a well-dressed fellow in a checked suit, remove his clothes and hang them carefully upon a nail, then painfully unlace his patent-leather shoes, after which, regardless of the litter under foot and the splinters in the floor, he tramped about in bare feet and red underwear. Without exception, they seemed possessed by the spirit of boys at play. Having seen them well under way and the winches working, George sought out Boyd and proudly inquired:
"What do you think of them, eh?"
"They are splendid. But where are the others?"
"Well, there are two or three that won't be able to get around at all." He meditatively stroked the knuckles of his right hand, which were badly bruised. "But the balance will be here to-morrow. These are just the mildest-mannered ones--the family men, you might say. The others will show up gradual. You see, if there had been any fighting going on here, I'd have got most of them right off the bat, but there wasn't any inducement to offer except hard work, so they wasn't quite so anxious to commence."
"Humph! There ought to be enough excitement before long to satisfy any one," said Boyd, with a trace of worry in his voice.
"As sure as you're a foot high!" exclaimed George, hopefully. "It's the only way we'll get that ship loaded on time. All we need is a riot or two."
A man passed them trundling a heavy truck, but seeing Big George, he paused, wiped the sweat from his face, then grinned and winked fraternally.
"Hey! If this work is too heavy for you, why don't you quit?" growled Balt, but strangely enough the fellow took no offence. Instead, he closed his swollen eye for a second time, then spat upon his hands, and, as he struggled with his burden, grunted pleasantly:
"I pretty near--got you, Georgie. If you hadn't 'a' ducked, we'd 'a' been at it yet, eh?"
Balt smiled in turn, then gingerly felt of the knob behind his ear.
"Did you have a fight with him?" queried Emerson.
"Not exactly a fight, but he put this nubbin on my conch," answered the fisherman. "He's a tough proposition, one of the best we've got."
"What was the trouble?"
"Nothing! I used to have to lick him every year. We've sort of missed each other lately."
"Then you were merely renewing a pleasant acquaintance?" laughed the younger man. "He hit you in the mouth too, I see."
"No, I got that from a stranger. I was bedding him down when he kicked me with his boot. He ain't here this morning."'
"If I were you, I'd go up to the hotel and get some sleep," Boyd advised. "I'll oversee things."
George hesitated. "I don't know if I'd better go or not. They've all got hang-overs, and they're liable to bu'st out any minute if you don't watch them. They ain't vicious, understand; they just like to frolic around."
"I'll watch them."
After a contemplative glance at his companion's well-knit figure, Balt gave in, with the final caution: "Don't let them get the upper hand, or there won't be no living with them."
After his departure, Boyd was not long in learning the cause of his hesitancy, for no sooner did the men realize the change in authority over them than they undertook to feel out the mettle of their new foreman. Directly one of them approached him, with the demand:
"Get us a drink, boss; we're thirsty."
"There is the water-tap," said Emerson. "Help yourself."
"Go on! We don't want water. Rustle up a keg of beer, will you?"
He turned back to his task, but a moment later Boyd saw him making for the shore end of the dock, and with a few strides placed himself in his path.
"Where are you going?"
"After a drink, of course."
"You want to quit, eh?"
The man eyed him for an instant, then answered: "No! The job's all right, but I'm thirsty."
Those working near ceased their labors and gathered around, whereupon their companion addressed them.
"Say! It's a great note when a fellow can't have a drink. Come on, boys, I'll set 'em up." There was a general laugh and a forward movement of all within hearing, which Boyd checked with a rough command.
"Get back to work, all of you." But the spokesman, disregarding his words, attempted to pass, whereupon without warning Boyd knocked him down with a clean blow to the face. At this the others yelled and rushed forward, only to be met by their foreman, who had snatched a bale-hook. It was an ugly weapon, and he used it so viciously that they quickly gave him room.
"Now get to work," he ordered, quietly. "You can quit if you want to, but I'll lay out the first fellow that goes after a drink. Make up your minds what you want to do. Quick!"
There was a moment's hesitation, and then, with the absurd vagary of a crowd, they broke into loud laughter and slouched back to work, two of them dragging the cause of the outburst to the water-faucet, where they held his head under the stream until he began to sputter and squirm. Before those at the gangway had noticed the disturbance it was all over, and thereafter Boyd experienced no trouble. On the contrary, they worked the better for his proof of authority, and took him into their fellowship as if he had qualified to their entire satisfaction. Even the man he had struck seemed to share in the general respect rather than to cherish the least ill-feeling. The respite was brief, however, for the work had not continued many hours before a stranger made his way quietly in upon the dock and began to argue with the first fisherman he met. Boyd discovered him quickly, and, approaching him, demanded:
"What do you want?"
"Nothing," said the new-comer.
"Then get out."
"What for? I'm just talking to this man."
"I can't allow any talking here. Hurry up and get out."
"This is a free country. I ain't hurting you."
"Will you go?"
"Say! You can't load that cargo this way," the man began, threateningly. "And you can't make me go--"
At which Emerson seized him by the collar and quickly disproved the assertion, to the great delight of the fishermen. He marched his prisoner to the dock entrance and thrust him out into the street with the warning: "Don't you let me catch you in here again."
"I'm a union man and you can't load that ship with 'scabs!'" The stranger swore as he slunk off. "You'll be sorry for this." But Boyd motioned him away and summoned two of his men to stand guard with him.
All that morning the three held their posts, refusing to admit any one who did not have business within, the while a considerable crowd assembled in the street. The first actual violence, however, occurred when the fishermen knocked off for the noon hour. Sensing the storm about to break, Boyd called up the Police Department from the dock-office, then summoned Big George, who appeared in quick time. It was with considerable difficulty that the non-union crew fought its way back to resume work at one o'clock.
During the afternoon the strikers made several attempts to enter the dock- shed, and it required a firm stand by the guards to restrain them. These growing signs of excitement pleased the fishermen intensely, and at each advance of the crowd it became as great a task to hold them back as it was to check the union forces. During one of these disturbances Captain Peasley made his way shoreward from the ship to scan the scene, and the sight of his uniform excited the ire of the strikers afresh. After a glance over the mob, he remarked to Emerson:
"Bli'me! It looks like a bloody riot already, doesn't it? Four hundred pounds to those dock wallopers! Huh! You know if I allowed them to bleed me that way--"
At that instant, from some quarter, a railroad spike whizzed past the Captain's head, banging against the boards behind him with such a thump that the dignified Englishman ducked quickly amid a shout of derision. He began to curse them roundly in his own particular style.
"You'd better keep under cover, Captain," advised Emerson. "They don't seem to care for you."
"So it would appear," he agreed. "They're getting nawsty, aren't they? I hope it doesn't lawst."
"Well, I hope it does," said George Balt. "If they'll only keep at it and beat up some of our boys at quitting-time the whole gang will be here in the morning."
It seemed that his wishes bade fair to be realized, for, as the day wore on, instead of diminishing, the excitement increased. By evening it became so menacing that Boyd was forced to send in an urgent demand for a squadron of bluecoats to escort his men to their lodgings, and it was only by the most vigorous efforts that a serious clash was averted. Nor was this task the easier since it did not meet with the approval of the fishermen themselves, who keenly resented protection of any sort.
True to George's prediction, the next morning found the non union men out in such force that they were divided into a night and a day crew, half of them being sent back to report later, while among the mountains of freight the work went forward faster than ever. But the night had served to point the anger of the strikers, and the dock owners, becoming alarmed for the safety of their property, joined with Emerson in establishing a force of a dozen able-bodied guards, armed with clubs, to assist the police in disputing the shore line with the rioters. The police themselves had proved ineffective, even betraying a half-hearted sympathy with the union men, who were not slow to profit by it. Even so, the day passed rather quietly, as did the next. But in time the agitation became so general as to paralyze a wide section of the water-front, and the city awoke to the realization that a serious conflict was in progress. The handful of fishermen, hidden under the roof of the great warehouse, outnumbered twenty to one, and guarded only by a thin line of pickets, became a centre of general interest.
As the violence of the mob, stimulated rather than checked by the indifference of the police, became more openly daring, so likewise did the reprisals of the fishermen, goaded now to a stubborn rage. They would not hear to having their food brought to them, but insisted daily on emerging in a body at noon and spending the hour in combat. Not to speak of the physical disabilities they incurred in these affrays, the excitement distracted them and affected their work disastrously, to the great concern of their employer.
It was on the fourth day that Boyd espied the man in the gray suit among the strikers and pointed him out to his three companions, Clyde and Fraser having joined him and George in a spirit of curiosity. Clyde was for immediately executing a sally to capture the fellow, explaining that once they had him inside the dock-house they could beat him until he confessed that Marsh was behind the strike, but his valor shrank amazingly when Fraser maliciously suggested that he himself lead the dash.
"No!" he exclaimed. "I'm not a fighting man, but I'm a good general. You know, Napoleon was about my size."
"I never noticed the resemblance," remarked Fraser.
"All the same, your idea ain't so bad," said Balt. "There's somebody stirring those fellows up, and I think it's that detective. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on him, and if you'll all stick with me I'll go out after him."
"Not for mine," hastily declared "Fingerless" Fraser. "I don't want to fight anybody. I'm here as a spectator."
"You're not afraid?" questioned Emerson.
"Not exactly afraid, but what's the use of my getting mixed up in this row? It ain't my cannery."
Now, while a mob is by nature noisy and threatening, there is little real danger in it until its diffusive violence is directed into one channel by a leader. Then, indeed, it becomes a terrible thing, and to the watchers at the dock it became evident, in time, that a guiding influence was at work among their enemies. Sure enough, late in the afternoon of the fourth day, without a moment's warning, the strikers rushed in a body, bearing down the guards like reeds. They came so unexpectedly that there was no time to muster reinforcements at the gate; almost before the fishermen could drop their tasks, their enemies were inside the building and pandemonium had broken loose. The structure rocked to the tumult of pounding heels, of yells and imprecations, the lofty roof serving to toss back and magnify the uproar.
Emerson and his companions found themselves carried away before the onslaught like chips in the surf, then sucked into a maelstrom where the first duty was self-preservation. Behind locked doors and shivering glass a terrified office-clerk, receiver to ear, was calling madly for Police Headquarters, while in the main building itself the crowd bellowed and roared and the hollow floor reverberated to the thunder of trampling feet and the crash of tumbling freight-piles.
Boyd succeeded in keeping his footing and eventually fought his way to a backing of crated machinery, where he stooped and ripped a cleat loose; then, laying about him with this weapon, he cleared a space. It was already difficult to distinguish friend from foe, but he saw Alton Clyde go down a short distance away and made a rush to rescue him. His pine slat splintered against a head, he dodged a missile, then struck with the fragment in his hand, and, snatching Clyde by the arm, dragged him out from under foot. Battered and bruised, the two won back to Emerson's first position, and watched the tide surge past.
At the first alarm the fishermen had armed themselves with bale-hooks and bludgeons, and for a time worked havoc among their assailants; but as the fight became more general they were forced apart and drawn into the crowd, whereupon the combatants split up into groups, milling about like frightened cattle. Men broke out from these struggling clusters to nurse their injuries or beat a retreat, only to be overrun and swallowed up again in a new commotion.
Emerson saw the big, barefooted fisherman in the red underclothes, armed with a sledge-hammer, go through the ranks of his enemies like a tornado, only to be struck by some missile hurled from a distance. With a shout of rage the fellow turned and flung his own weapon at his assailant, felling him like an ox, then he in turn was blotted out by a surge of rioters. But there was little time for observation, as the scene was changing with kaleidoscopic rapidity and there was the ever-present necessity of self- protection. Seeing Clyde's helpless condition, Emerson shouted:
"Come on! I'll help you aboard the ship." He found a hardwood club beneath his feet--one of those cudgels that are used in pounding rope-slings and hawsers--and with it cleared a pathway for Clyde and himself. But while still at a distance from the ship's gangway, he suddenly spied the man in the gray suit, who had climbed upon one of the freight-piles, whence he was scanning the crowd. The man likewise recognized Emerson, and pointed him out, crying something unintelligible in the tumult, then leaped down from his vantage-point. The next instant Boyd saw him approaching, followed by several others. He endeavored to hustle Clyde to the big doors ahead of the oncomers, but being intercepted, backed against the shed wall barely in time to beat off the foremost.
His nearest assailant had armed himself with an iron bar and endeavored to guard the first blow with this instrument, but it flew from his grasp, and he sustained the main force of the impact on his forearm. Then, though Boyd fell back farther, the others rushed in and he found himself hard beset. What happened thereafter neither he nor Alton Clyde, who was half- dazed to begin with, ever clearly remembered, for in such over-charged instants the mental photograph is wont to be either unusually distinct or else fogged to such a blur that only the high-lights stand out clearly in retrospect.
Before he had recognized the personal nature of the assault, Emerson found himself engaged in a furious hand-to-hand struggle where a want of room hampered the free use of his cudgel, and he was forced to rely mainly upon his fists. Blows were rained upon him from unguarded quarters, he was kicked, battered, and flung about, his blind instinct finally leading him to clinch with whomsoever his hands encountered. Then a sudden blackness swallowed him up, after which he found himself upon his knees, his arms loosely encircling a pair of legs, and realized that he had been half- stunned by a blow from behind. The legs he was clutching tried to kick him loose, at which he summoned all his strength, knowing that he must go down no further; but as he struggled upward, something smote him in the side with sickening force, and he went to his knees again.
Close beside him he saw the club he had dropped, and endeavored to reach it; but before he could do so, a hand snatched it away and he heard a voice cursing above him. A second time he tried to rise, but his shocked nerves failed to transmit the impulse to his muscles; he could only raise his shoulder and fling an arm weakly above his head in anticipation of the crushing blow he knew was coming. But it did not descend, Instead, he heard a gun shot--that sound for which his ears had been strained from the first--and then for an instant he wondered if it had been directed at himself. A weight sank across his calves, the legs he had been holding broke away from his grasp; then, with a final effort, he pulled himself free and staggered to his feet, his head rocking, his knees sagging. He saw a man's figure facing him, and lunged at it, to bring up in the arms of "Fingerless" Fraser, who cried sharply:
"Are you hurt, Bo?"
Too dazed to answer, he turned and beheld the body of a man stretched face downward on the floor. Beyond, the fellow in the gray suit was disappearing into the crowd. Even yet Boyd did not realize whence the shot had come, although the smell of powder was sharp in his nostrils. Then he saw a gleam of blue metal in Fraser's hands.
"Give me that gun!" he panted, but his deliverer held him off.
"I may need it myself, and I ain't got but the one here! Let's get Clyde out of this."
Stepping over the motionless form at his feet, Fraser lifted the young club-man, who was huddled in a formless heap as if he had fallen from a great height, and together the two dragged him toward The Bedford Castle. As they went aboard, they were nearly run down by a body of reinforcements that Captain Peasley had finally mustered from between decks. Down the gang-plank and over the side they poured, grimy stokers, greasy oilers, and swearing deckhands, equipped with capstan-bars, wrenches, and marlin-spikes. Without waiting to observe the effect of these new-comers, Boyd and Fraser bundled Alton into the first cabin at hand, then turned back.
"Better stay here and look after him. You're all in, yourself," the adventurer advised. "I'm going to hunt up George."
He was away on the instant, with Boyd staggering after him, still weak and shaking, the vague discomfort of running blood at the back of his neck, muttering thickly as he went: "Give me your gun, Fraser! Give me your gun!"
The battle was still raging when the police arrived, after an interminable delay, and it ceased only at the rough play of night-sticks, and after repeated charges of the uniformed men had broken up the ranks of the strikers. The dock was cleared at length, and wagon-loads of bleeding, struggling combatants rolled away to jail, union and non-union men bundled in together. But work was not resumed that day, despite the fact that Big George, bruised, ragged, and torn, doubled his force of pickets and took personal charge of them.
That night, under glaring headlines, the evening papers told the story, reporting one fisherman fatally hurt, one striker dead of a gunshot wound, and many others injured.