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- West Wind Drift - 30/60 -
"It was a note of apology. He says he never fails to write a note of apology when he's done something he's ashamed of, or words to that effect. Lifelong practice, he says."
"Who was he apologizin' to?"
"That little nurse, Miss Lake,--the one with the coral earrings. You know, Mike. I saw you carrying a bucket of water for her yesterday."
"Her name isn't Lake," said Malone. "It's Hardwickley. And if you had your eyes open, you'd have seen me carrying one for her every day, so you would, my lad."
"The damned villain!" exploded Flattner. "He told me her name was Lake,--word with only four letters,--and she turns out to have--let's see,--eleven! I call that pretty shifty work, I do. You can't trust these wizards of Wall Street. They'll do you every crack, if you don't keep your eye peeled. Hornswoggled me out of seven letters."
"You've got to watch 'em," mused Fitts. "What was he apologizing to her for?"
"Something to do with his washing. I don't just remember what it was, but I think she didn't iron and fold his handkerchiefs properly, or maybe it was his collars. In any case, he panned her for it, and afterwards repented. Told me in so many words that he felt like a blooming cad about it, and couldn't rest till he had apologized."
Fitts took several puffs at his pipe and then remarked: "That man has the biggest wash of anybody in this camp. I don't see any real reason why he should change collars three times a day while he's hauling logs down from the hills. As a matter of fact, what's the sense of wearing a collar at all? Most of us don't even wear shirts. See here, your majesty,--begging your pardon for disturbing your thoughts with my foot,--why don't you issue a manifesto or edict or something prohibiting the use of collars except on holidays, or at weddings, funerals and so forth?"
Percival yawned. "If Landover didn't have a collar on he'd think he was stark naked. Gosh, I'd like to go to bed."
"Why don't you? We'll call you as soon as we get any news," said Flattner.
"No, I'll stick it out a while longer. I say, Flat, it begins to look as if there's real wheat coming up over there after all. Old Pedro was telling me today that it looks like a cinch unless we got it sowed too late and cold weather comes along too soon. I never dreamed we'd get results. Putting out spring wheat in virgin soil like this is a new one on me. If it does thrive and deliver, by gosh, a whole lot of agricultural dope will be knocked to pieces. I thought spring wheat had to be sown in land that was ploughed the fall before. What's the explanation?"
"You can't explain nature, A. A.," said Percy Knapendyke. "Nature does so darned many unnatural things that you can't pin your faith to it at all. Of course, it was a pure experiment we made. We happened to have a lot of hard spring wheat, and this alluvial soil, deep and rich, was worth tackling. Old Pedro was as much surprised as I was when it began to come up. Using that fertilizer was an experiment, too. He swore it wouldn't help a bit. Now he just scratches his head and says God did it. We've got fifty acres out there as green as paint and you can almost see it grow. If nothing happens we ought to harvest it by the middle of February, and if God keeps on doing things for us, we may get as much as twenty-five bushels to the acre. It's different with the oats. You can plant oats on unploughed land, just as we did, and you can't stop it growing. The oats field up there along the base of the hills is a peach. Takes about ninety days for oats to ripen. That means we'll harvest it in about two months, and we'll beat the cold weather to it. Forty or fifty to the acre, if we have any luck at all. Potatoes doing well and--Say, did I tell you what I've found out about that stuff growing over there in the lowlands beyond the river? Well, it's flax. It's the same sort of thing that grows in New Zealand. Those plants I was pointing out to you last week,--the ones with the long brownish leaves, like swords. There's no mistake about it. I took those two Australian sailors over to look at 'em a day or two ago and they swear it's the same plant, growing wild. Same little capsule shaped fruit, with the little black seeds, and everything. I've been reading up on it in the encyclopedia. You cut those leaves off when they get to be full size, macerate 'em in water for a few days, sun dry 'em, and then weave 'em some way or another. We'll have to work that out. Strongest sort of fibre in the leaves. Makes a very stout cloth, rope, twine,--all that sort of thing. Opens up a new and important industry, boys,--particularly obnoxious to married men. We'll be having dress-making establishments in full blast before you know it, and model gowns till you can't rest. I almost hate to spread the news among the women. We won't have a cook, or a laundress, or a school-teacher on the Island if this dressmaking craze gets started. Every hut along this row will have a sign beside the door: 'Dressmaking Done Here.' On the other hand, I doubt very much if we'll be able to get a single tailor-shop going,--and God knows I'll soon need a new pair of pants, especially if we're going to have regular church services every Sunday, as Percival says."
"Father Francisco and Parson Mackenzie have finally got together on it," said Malone gloomily. "For the first time in the history of civilization we're going to have a combination Catholic and Protestant Church. It's all arranged. Father Francisco is going to conduct mass in the morning and Parson Mackenzie is going to talk about hell-fire in the evening. I was wondering what the Jews are going to do for a synagogue and a rabbi."
"I can't answer that question," said Peter Snipe; "but Morris Shine tackled me the other day to write a play for him, something with music and dancing in it. He's got a great idea, he says. A stock company to use the church building once a month. Expects to submit his scheme to Fitts as soon as he gets it worked out, with the idea of having our prize little architect provide for a stage with ecclesiastical props in the shape of pulpits and chancels and so forth, which can be removed on short notice. Suggests, as a matter of thrift, that footlights be put in instead of altar candles. Free show, free acting, no advertising bills, no royalties to authors, free programs,--everything free, including supper."
"Grand little idea, Pete," said Percival. "Are you going to write the play?"
"Sure. My faithful old typewriter is aching to be thumped once more,--and I've got half-a-dozen extra ribbons, thank God. Good for two long novels and an epitaph. Just as soon as we can get the ship's printing press and dining-room type ashore, I'll be ready to issue The Trigger Island Transcript, w.t.f.--if you know what that means. I see you don't. Weekly till forbidden."
"I've always wondered what those confounded letters meant down in the corner of the half-inch advertisements," said Flattner. "It will be a rotten-looking newspaper if it's anything like the sheet the Doraine put out on the trip down. No two letters matched, and some of 'em were always upside down. Why were they upside down, Pete? You're an old newspaper man. Tell us."
"Because it's impossible to set 'em sideways. If it was possible, the blamed printers could do it, you bet. When I was writing leaders on the Saxville Citizen years ago there was a ruffian up in the composing-room who used to set whole paragraphs of my best editorials in em quads, and when I kicked,--Hello, isn't that a lantern, A. A.?"
They all scrambled to their feet and peered intently in the direction of the wooded strip that lined the channel. This whilom conversation came to an abrupt end. Ghostly forms suddenly took shape in front of other huts, figures of men that were until then as logs in the shadows. Far off in the road through the wood, a light bobbed, flashed and disappeared intermittently, and finally emerged into the open and came steadily forward. Detached knots of men down the line of huts, twos and threes and fours, swiftly welded themselves into groups, and, hurrying forward, swelled the crowd that congregated at the end of the "street." Two hundred of them, tired but eager, awaited the arrival of the man with the lantern.
These were the men who slept on shore, the unmarried men, those who had no "feminine hearth," as Snipe put it dolefully one dark and windy night. Since supper-time these men had been waiting and watching. But few of them had gone to bed. Gentleman and roustabout, one and all, were linked together by a common anxiety. News of the greatest import was expected during the night.
A child was coming to the pathetic little widow of Cruise, the radio-man.
Two messengers had gone down to the landing to wait for the report to be shouted from the afterdeck of the Doraine,--Soapy Shay and Buck Chizler, the jockey. Now they were returning,--and it was nearing midnight.
They drew near, the lantern buffeting the legs of the one-time diamond thief as he swung along in the rear of the more active jockey.
"It's a girl," called out Buck to the silent mob. Not a sound, not a word from the eager crowd. "Mother and kid both doing well," went on the jockey, a thrilling note of triumph in his voice.
And then a roar of voices went up to the moonlit sky. The shackles of doubt and anxiety fell away, and every heart swelled with joy and relief. Men began to dance and laugh. Out in front of the crowd leaped Percival.
"Come on now, fellows! Everybody up! Three cheers for the Trigger Island baby! One--two--three!"
And while the last wild cheer was echoing back from, the mountainside: "Now, three good ones for the baby's mother, God bless her!"
Thrice again the exultant yells echoed across the plain, and then out leaped another excited figure. It was Nicklestick the Jew.
"Come on! Come on! Ve got to light the bonfires! Come on! I got the matches! Vait! Vait! Let's vait while we take off our hats a minute, boys,--take them off to our baby's father, Jimmy Cruise. No cheers!"
A hush fell over the crowd. Every hat came off, and every head was bent. To many of them James Cruise was no more than a name salvaged from the shocking experiences of those first dreadful days. Few of them had come in actual contact with him. The time had been too short. But Betty Cruise, his widow, was known to all of them, high and low. They had watched over her, and protected her, and slaved
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