“Partly because it’s a costly rig to install. But mostly because salmon and ice have always been both cheap and plentiful, and people have got into a habit of doing things in the same old way. You know. Until the last season or two salmon have been so cheap that neither canneries nor buyers bothered about anything so up-to-date. If they lost their ice in hot weather and the fish rotted—why, there were plenty more fish. There have been times when the Fraser River stunk with rotten salmon. They used to pay the fishermen ten cents apiece for six-pound sockeyes and limit them to two hundred fish to the boat if there was a big run. The gill-netter would take five hundred in one drift, come in to the cannery loaded to the guards, find himself up against a limit. He would sell the two hundred and dump more than that overboard. And the Fraser River canneries wonder why sockeye is getting scarce. My father used to rave about the waste. Criminal, he used to say.”
“When the fishermen were getting only ten cents apiece for sockeyes, salmon was selling at fifteen cents a pound tin,” MacRae observed.
“Oh, the canneries made barrels of money.” Stubby shrugged his shoulders. “They thought the salmon would always run in millions, no matter how many they destroyed. Some of ’em think so yet.”
“We’re a nation of wasters, compared to Europe,” MacRae said thoughtfully. “The only thing they are prodigal with over there is human flesh and blood. That is cheap and plentiful. But they take care of their natural resources. We destroy as much as we use, fish, timber—everything. Everybody for himself and the devil take the hindmost.”
“Well, I don’t know what we can do about it,” Stubby drawled.
“Keep from being the hindmost,” MacRae answered. “But I sometimes feel sorry for those who are.”
“Man,” Stubby observed, “is a predatory animal. You can’t make anything else of him. Nobody develops philanthropy and the public spirit until he gets rich and respectable. Social service is nothing but a theory yet. God only helps those who help themselves.”
“How does he arrange it for those who can’t help themselves?” MacRae inquired.
Stubby shrugged his shoulders.
“Search me,” he said.
“Do you even believe in this anthropomorphic God of the preachers?” MacRae asked curiously.
“Well, there must be something, don’t you think?” Stubby hedged.
“There may be,” MacRae pursued the thought. “I read a book by Wells not long ago in which he speaks of God as the Great Experimenter. If there is an all-powerful Deity, it strikes me that in his attitude toward humanity he is a good deal like a referee at a football game who would say to the teams, ’Here is the ball and the field and the two goals. Go to it,’ and then goes off to the side lines to smoke his pipe while the players foul and gouge and trip and generally run amuck in a frenzied effort to win the game.”