No matter what happened people must be fed. Food was vital. Men lost their lives at the fishing, but it went on. Hearts might be torn, but hands still plied the gear. Life had a bad taste in Jack MacRae’s mouth as he lay there under the red-barked tree. He was moody. It seemed a struggle without mercy or justice, almost without reason, a blind obedience to the will-to-live. A tooth-and-toenail contest. He surveyed his own part in it with cynical detachment. So long as salmon ran in the sea they would be taken for profit in the markets and the feeding of the hungry. And the salmon would run and men would pursue them, and the game would be played without slackening for such things as broken faith or aching hearts or a woman’s tears.
MacRae grew drowsy puzzling over things like that. Life was a jumble beyond his understanding, he concluded at last. Men strove to a godlike mastery of circumstances,—and achieved three meals a day and a squalid place to sleep. Sometimes, when they were pluming themselves on having beaten the game, Destiny was laughing in her sleeve and spreading a snare for their feet. A man never knew what was coming next. It was just a damned scramble! A disorderly scramble in which a man could be sure of getting hurt.
He wondered if that were really true.
Thrust and Counterthrust
By the time Jack MacRae was writing August on his sales slips he was conscious of an important fact; namely, that nearly a hundred gas-boat fishermen, trolling Squitty Island, the Ballenas, Gray Rock, even farther afield to Yellow Rock Light and Lambert Channel, were compactly behind him. They were still close to a period when they had been remorselessly exploited. They were all for MacRae. Prices being equal, they preferred that he should have their fish. It was still vivid in their astonished minds that he had shared profits with them without compulsion, that he had boosted prices without competition, had put a great many dollars in their pockets. Only those who earn a living as precariously, as riskily and with as much patient labor as a salmon fisherman, can so well value a dollar. They had an abiding confidence, by this time, in Jack MacRae. They knew he was square, and they said so. In the territory his two carriers covered, MacRae was becoming the uncrowned salmon king. Other buyers cut in from time to time. They did not fare well. The trollers would hold their salmon, even when some sporting independent offered to shade the current price. They would shake their heads if they knew either of the Bird boats would be there to take the fish. For when MacRae said he would be there, he was always there. In the old days they had been compelled to play one buyer against another. They did not have to do that with MacRae.
The Folly Bay collectors fared little better than outside buyers. In July Gower met MacRae’s price by two successive raises. He stopped at that. MacRae did not. Each succeeding run of salmon averaged greater poundage. They were worth more. MacRae paid fifty, fifty-five cents. When Gower stood pat at fifty-five, MacRae gave up a fourth of his contract percentage and paid sixty. It was like draw poker with the advantage of the last raise on his side.