The Silver Horde by Rex Ellingwood Beach
Chapter XVIII. Willis Marsh Springs a Trap
The ensuing days were strenuous ones for the partners, working as they did, with a crippled force and under constant guard. Riot was in the air, and violence on every side. By the police, whose apathy disappeared only when an opportunity occurred of arresting the men they were supposed to protect, they were more handicapped than helped. The appearance of a fisherman at any point along the water-front became a sure signal for strife.
Day by day the feeling on both sides grew stronger, till the non-union men were cemented together in a spirit of bitterest indignation, which materially lessened their zeal for work. Every act of violence intensified their rage. They armed themselves, in defiance of orders, tossed restraint to the winds, and sought the slightest opportunity of wreaking vengeance upon their enemies. Nor were the rioters less determined. Authority, after all, is but a hollow shell, which, once broken, is quickly disintegrated. Fierce engagements took place, populating the hospitals. It became necessary to guard all property in the warehouse districts, and men ceased to venture there alone after dark.
One circumstance caused Boyd no little surprise and uneasiness--the fact that no vigorous effort had been made to fix the blame for the striker's death on that riotous afternoon. Surely, he reasoned, Marsh's detective must have witnessed the killing, and must recognize the ease with which the act could now be saddled upon him. If delay were their object, Emerson could not understand why they did not seek to have him arrested. The consequences might well be serious if Marsh's money were used; but, as the days slipped past and nothing occurred, he decided that he had been overfearful on this score, or else that the manager of the Packers' Trust had limits beyond which he would not push his persecution.
A half-mile from Captain Peasley's ship, the rival Company tenders were loading rapidly with union labor, and it seemed that in spite of Boyd's plan to be first at Kalvik, Marsh's force would beat him to the ground unless greater efforts were made. When he communicated these fears to Big George, the fisherman suddenly became a slave-driver. He passed among his men, cajoling, threatening, bribing, and they began to work like demons, with the result that when the twentieth arrived he was able to announce to his partner that the work would be finished some time during the following morning.
The next day Emerson and Clyde drove down to the dock with Cherry in a closed carriage, experiencing no annoyance beyond some jeers and insults as they passed through the picket line. Boyd had barely seen them comfortably established on board, when up the ship's gangway came "Fingerless" Fraser radiantly attired, three heavily laden hotel porters groaning at his back, the customary thick-waisted cigar between his teeth.
"Are you going with us?" Boyd inquired.
"See here. Is life one long succession of surprise parties with you?"
"Why, I've figgered on this right along."
"But the ship is jammed now. There is no room."
"Oh, I fixed that up long ago. I am going to bunk with the steward."
"Well, why in the world didn't you let us know you were coming?"
"Say, don't kid yourself. You knew I couldn't stay behind." Fraser blew a cloud of smoke airily. "I never start anything I can't finish, I keep telling you, and I'm going to put this deal through, now that I've got it started." With a half-embarrassed laugh and a complete change of manner, he laid his hand upon Boyd's shoulder, saying: "Pal, I ain't much good to myself or anybody else, but I like you and I want to stick around. Maybe I'll come in useful yet--you can't tell."
Emerson had never glimpsed this side of the man's nature, and it rather surprised him.
"Of course you can come along, old man," he responded, heartily. "We're glad to have you."
To one who has never witnessed the spring sailing of a Northern cannery- tender, the event is well worth seeing; it is one of the curiosities of the Seattle water-front. Not only is there the inevitable confusion involved in the departure of an overloaded craft, but likewise there is all the noisy excitement that attends a shipment of Oriental troops.
The Chinese maintain such a clatter as to drown the hoarse cries of the stevedores, the complaint of the creaking tackle, and the rumble of the winches. They scurry hither and yon like a distracted army, forever in the way, shouting, clacking, squealing in senseless turmoil. They are timid as to the water, and for them a voyage is at all times beset with many alarms. It is no more possible to restrain them than to calm a frightened herd of wild pigs, nor will they embark at all until their frenzy has run its course and died of its own exhaustion. To discipline them according to the seamen's standard is inadvisable, for many of them are "cutters," big, evil, saffron-hued fellows, whose trade it is to butcher and in whose dextrous hands a knife becomes a frightful weapon.
The Japs, ordinarily so noiseless and submissive, yield to the contagion and add their share to the uproar. Each man carries a few pounds of baggage in bundles or packs or valises, and these scanty belongings he guards with shrieking solicitude.
While the pandemonium of the Orientals who gathered to board The Bedford Castle was sufficient in itself to cause consternation, it was as nothing to that which broke loose when the fishermen began to assemble. To a man they were drunk, belligerent and, declamatory. A few, to be sure, were still busy with the tag ends of the cargo, but the majority had gone to their lodgings for their packs, and now reappeared in a state of the wildest exuberance; for this would be their last spree of the season, and before them lay a period of long, sleepless nights, exposure, and unceasing labor, wherein a year's work must be crowded into three months. They, therefore, inaugurated the change in befitting style.
On the whole, no explosive has ever been invented that is so noisy in its effect, so furiously expansive in its action, as the fumes of cheap whiskey. The great dock-shed soon began to reverberate to the wildest clamor, which added to the fury of the crowd outside. The strikers, unable to enter the building, flowed down upon the adjoining wharf, or clambered to the roofs nearby, whence they jeered insultingly. Among them was a newspaper photographer, bent on securing an unusual picture for his publication, and in truth the scene from this point of view was sufficiently novel and striking.
The decks of the big, low-lying tramp steamer were piled high with gear of every description. A trio of stout tow-boats were blocked up amidships, long piles of lumber rose higher than a man's head, and the roofs of the deck-houses were jammed with fishing-boats nested, one inside the other, like pots in a kitchen. Every available inch was crowded with cases of gasoline, of groceries, and of the varied provisions required on an expedition of this magnitude. Aft, on rows of hooks, were suspended the carcasses of sheep and bullocks and hogs; there seemed to be nowhere another foot of available room. The red water-line of the ship was already submerged, yet notwithstanding this fact her derricks clanged noisily, her booms swung back and forth, and her gaping hatches swallowed momentary loads. Those fishermen who had come aboard early had settled like flies in the rigging, whence they taunted their enemies, hurling back insult for insult.
It was much like the departure of a gold steamer during the early famine stages of the northward stampede, save that now there were no women, while the confusion was immeasurably greater, and through it all might be felt a certain strained and angry menace. All the long afternoon The Bedford Castle lay at her moorings subjected to the customary eleventh-hour delays. As the time dragged on, and the liquor died in the fishermen, it became a herculean task to prevent them from issuing forth into the street, while the crowds outside seemed possessed of a desperate determination to force an entrance and bring the issue to a final settlement. But across the shore end of the dock a double cordon was drawn which hurled back the intruders at every advance.
The fishermen who remained inside the barnlike structure, unable to come at their enemies, fought among themselves, bidding fair to wreck the building in the extravagance of their delirium, while outside the rival faction kept up a fire of missiles and execrations. As the hours crept onward the tension increased, and at last Boyd turned to Captain Peasley saying, "You'd better be ready to pull out at any minute, for if the mob breaks in we'll never be able to hold these maniacs." He pointed to the black swarm aloft, whence issued hoarse waves of sound. "I don't like the look of things, a little bit."
"They are a trifle strained, to be sure," the Captain acknowledged. "I'll stand by to cast off at your signal, so you'd better pass the word around."
Boyd left the ship and went to the dock-office, for there still remained one thing to be done: he could not leave without sounding a final note of triumph for Mildred. How sweet it would be to her ears he knew full well, yet he could not help wondering if she would feel the thrill that mastered him at this moment. As he saw the empty spaces where had stood those masses of freight which he had gathered at such cost, as he heard his own men bellowing defiance at his enemies and realized that his first long stride toward success had been taken, his heart swelled with gladness and the breath caught momentarily in his throat. After all, he was going to win! Out of the shimmering distance of his desire, the lady of his dreams drew closer to him; and ere long he could lay at her feet the burden of his travail, and then--. Oblivious to the turmoil all about, he wrote rapidly, almost incoherently, to Mildred, transcribing the mood of mingled tenderness and exultation which possessed him.
"Outside the building," he concluded, "there is a raging mob. They would ruin me if they could, but they can't do it, they can't do it. We have beaten them all, my lady. We have won!"
He was sealing his letter, when, without warning, "Fingerless" Fraser appeared at his side, his fishlike eyes agleam, his colorless face drawn with anxiety.
"They've come to grab you for killing that striker," he began, breathlessly; "there's a couple of 'square-toes' on the dock now. Better take it on the 'lam'--quick!"
"God!" So Marsh had withheld this stroke until the last moment, when the least delay would be fatal. Boyd knew that if he were brought into court he would have hard shift to clear himself against the mass of perjured testimony that his rival had doubtless gathered; but even this seemed as nothing in comparison with the main issue. For one wild instant he considered sending George Balt on with the ship. That would be folly, no doubt; yet plainly he could not hold The Bedford Castle and keep together that raging army of fishermen while he fought his way through the tedious vexations of a trial. He saw that he had under-estimated his enemy's cunning, and he realized that, if Marsh had planned this move, he would press his advantage to the full.
"There's two plain-clothes men," he heard Fraser running on. "I 'made' 'em as they were talking to Peasley. You'd better 'beat' it, quick!"
"How? I couldn't get through that crowd. They know me. Listen!" Outside the street broke into a roar at some taunt of the fishermen high up in the rigging. "I can't run away, and if those detectives get me I'm ruined."
"Well! What's to be done?" demanded Fraser, sharply. "If you say the word, we'll shoot it out with them, and get away on the ship before--"
"We can't do that--there are a dozen policemen in front here."
"Well, you'll have to move quick, or they'll 'cop' you, sure."
Boyd clinched his hands in desperation. "I guess they've got me," he said, bitterly. "There's no way out."
His eyes fell upon the letter containing his boastful assurance of victory. What a mockery!
"From what they said I don't think they know you," Fraser continued. "Anyhow, they wanted Peasley to point you out. When they come off, maybe you can slip 'em."
"But how?" Boyd seized eagerly upon the suggestion. "The wharf is empty-- see! I'll have to cross it in plain sight."
Through the rear door of the office that opened upon the dock proper they beheld the great floor almost entirely clear. Save for a few tons of freight at which Big George's men were working, it was as unobstructed as a lawn; and, although it was nearly the size of a city block, it afforded no more means of concealment than did the little office itself, with its glass doors, its counter, and its long desk, at the farther end of which a bill-clerk was poring over his task. Iron-barred windows at the front of the room looked out upon the street; other windows and a door at the right opened upon the driveway and railroad track, while at the rear the glass- panelled door through which they had just been peering gave egress only to the dock itself, up which the two officers were likely to come at any instant. Even as Emerson, with a last desperate glance, summed up the possible places of concealment, Fraser exclaimed, softly:
"There they are now!" and they saw at the foot of the gang-plank two men talking with Big George. They saw Balt point the strangers carelessly to the office, whence he had seen Boyd disappearing a few moments before, and turn back to his stevedores; then they saw the plain-clothes men approaching.
"Here! Gimme your coat and hat, quick!" cried Fraser in a low voice, his eyes blazing at a sudden, thought. He stripped his own garments from his back with feverish haste. "Put mine on. There! I'll stall for you. When they grab me, take it on the run. Understand!"
"That won't do. Everybody knows me." Boyd cast an apprehensive glance at the arched back of the bill-clerk, but Fraser, quick of resource in such a situation, forced him swiftly to make the change, saying:
"Nix. It's your only 'out.' Stand here, see!" He indicated a position beside the rear door. "I'll step out the other way where they can see me," he continued, pointing to the wagon-way at the right. "Savvy? When they grab me, you beat it, and don't wait for nothing."
Already they could hear the footsteps of the officers.
"I'll take a chance. Good-bye."
There was no time even for a hand-shake; Fraser stepped swiftly to the door, then strolled quietly out into the view of the two men, who an instant later accosted him.
"Are you Mr. Boyd Emerson?"
The adventurer answered brusquely, "Yes, but I can't talk to you now."
"You are under arrest, Mr. Emerson."
Boyd waited to hear no more. The glass door swung open noiselessly under his hand, and he stepped out just as the bill-clerk looked up from his work, staring out through the other entrance.
"Fingerless" Fraser's voice was louder now, as if for a signal. "Arrest me? What do you mean? Get out of my way."
"You'd better come peaceably."
Boyd heard a sharp exclamation--"Get him, Bill!" And then the sound of men struggling. He ran, followed by a roar from the strikers, in whose full view Fraser's encounter with the plain-clothes men was taking place. A backward glance showed him that Fraser had drawn his pursuers to the street. He had broken away and dodged out into the open, where the other officers responded at a call and seized him as he apparently undertook to break through the cordon. This diversion served an unexpected purpose. Not only did it draw attention from Emerson's retreat, but it also gave the mob its long-awaited opportunity. Recognizing in the officers' quarry the supposed figure of Emerson, the hated cause of all this strife, the strikers gave vent to a great shout of rage and triumph, and surged forward across the wide street, carrying the police before them with irresistible force.
In a moment it became not a question of keeping the entrance to the wharf, but of protecting the life of the prisoner, and the policemen rallied with their backs to the wall, their clubs working havoc with the heads that came within striking distance.
Scarcely had Boyd reached Big George, when a wing of the besieging army swept in through the unguarded entrance and down the dock like an avalanche, leaving behind them the battling officers and the hungry pack clamoring for the prisoner.
"Drop that freight, and get aboard the best way you can!" Boyd yelled at the fishermen, and with a bound was out into the open crying to Captain Peasley on the bridge:
"Here they come! Cast off, for God's sake!"
Instantly a wild cry of rage and defiance rose from the clotted rigging and upper works of The Bedford Castle. Down the fishermen swarmed, ready to over-flow the sides of the ship, but, with a sharp order to George, Boyd ran up the gang-plank and rushed along the rail to a commanding position in the path of his men, where, drawing his revolver, he roared at them to keep back, threatening the first to go ashore. His lungs were bursting from his sprint, and it was with difficulty that his voice rose above the turmoil; but he presented such a figure of determination that the men paused, and then the steamship whistle interrupted opportunely, with a deafening blast.
The dozen men who had been slinging freight on the dock hastened up the gang-plank or climbed the fenders, while the signal-man clung to the lifting tackle, and, at the piping cry of his whistle, was swung aloft out of the very arms of the rioters.
Above, on the flying bridge, Captain Peasley was bellowing orders; a quartermaster was running up the iron steps to the pilot-house; on deck the sailors were fighting their way to their posts through the ranks of the raging fishermen and the shrieking confusion of the Orientals; the last men aboard, with a "Heave Ho!" in unison, slid the gang-plank upward and out of reach. The neighboring roofs, lately so black, were emptying now, the onlookers hastening to join in the attack.
Big George alone remained upon the wharf. As he saw the rush coming he had ordered his men to abandon their load; then he ran to the after-mooring, and, taking slack from a deck hand, cast it off. Back up the dock he went to the forward hawser, where, at a signal, he did the same, moving, toward the last, without excessive hurry, as if in a spirit of bravado. The ship was clear, and he had not cut a hawser. He had done his work; all but a ton or two of the cargo was stowed. There was no longer cause for delay.
"Get aboard! Are you mad?" Emerson shouted, but the cry never reached him. Back he came slowly, in front of the press, secure in his tremendous strength, defiance in his every move, a smouldering challenge in his eyes; and noting that gigantic frame with its square-hewn, flaming face, not one of his enemies dared oppose him. But as he passed they yapped and snarled and jostled at his heels, hungry to rend him and only lacking courage.
As yet the ship, although throbbing to the first pulsations of her engines, lay snug along the piling, but gradually her stern swung off and a wedge of clearance showed. Almost imperceptibly she drew back and rubbed against the timbers. A fender began to squeeze and complain. The dock planking creaked. Sixty seconds more and she would be out of arm's-reach, and still George made no haste. Again Boyd shouted at him, and then with one farewell glower over his shoulder the big fellow mounted a pile, stretched his arms upward to the bulwarks, and swung himself lightly aboard.
Even yet Emerson's anxiety was of the keenest; for, notwithstanding the stress of these dragging moments, he had not forgotten Fraser, the vagabond, the morally twisted rascal, to whose courage and resourcefulness he owed so much. He strained his eyes for a glimpse of the fellow, at the same time dreading the sight of a uniform. Would the ship never get under way and out of hailing distance? If those officers had discovered their mistake, they might yet have time to stop him. He vowed desperately that he would not let them, not if he had to take The Bedford Castle to sea with a gun at the back of her helmsman. He made his way hurriedly to the bridge, where he hastily explained to Captain Peasley his evasion of the officers; and here he found Cherry, her face flushed, her eyes sparkling with excitement, but far too wise to speak to him in his present state of mind.
A scattered shower of missiles came aboard as the strikers kept pace with the steamer to the end of the slip, exciting the fishermen, who had again mounted the rigging, to a simian frenzy. Oaths, insults, and jeers were hurled back and forth; but as the big steamer gathered momentum and slid out of her berth, they grew gradually more indistinct, until at last they became muffled, broken, and meaningless. Even then the rival ranks continued to volley profanely at each other, while the Captain, with hand on the whistle-rope, blew taunting blasts; nor did the fishermen descend from their perches until the forms on the dock had blurred together and the city lay massed in the distance, tier upon tier, against the gorgeous evening sky.