The trolling boats were packed about the Blanco so close that MacRae left his dinghy on the outer fringe and walked across their decks to the deck of his own vessel. The Blanco loomed in the midst of these lesser craft like a hen over her brood of chicks. The fishermen had gathered on the nearest boats. A dozen had clambered up and taken seats on the Blanco’s low bulwarks. MacRae gained his own deck and looked at them.
“What’s coming off?” he asked quietly. “You fellows holding a convention of some sort?”
One of the men sitting on the big carrier’s rail spoke.
“Folly Bay’s quit—shut down,” he said sheepishly. “We come to see if you’d start buying again.”
MacRae sat down on one sheave of his deck winch. He took out a cigarette and lighted it, swung one foot back and forth. He did not make haste to reply. An expectant hush fell on the crowd. In the slow-gathering dusk there was no sound but the creak of rubbing gunwales, the low snore of the sea breaking against the cliffs, and the chug-chug of the last stragglers beating into the shelter of the Cove.
“He shut down the cannery,” the fishermen’s spokesman said at last. “We ain’t seen a buyer or collector for three days. The water’s full of salmon, an’ we been suckin’ our thumbs an’ watching ’em play. If you won’t buy here again we got to go where there is buyers. And we’d rather not do that. There’s no place on the Gulf as good fishin’ as there is here now.”
“What was the trouble?” MacRae asked absently. “Couldn’t you supply him with fish?”
“Nobody knows. There was plenty of salmon. He cut the price the day after you tied up. He cut it to six bits. Then he shut down. Anyway, we don’t care why he shut down. It don’t make no difference. What we want is for you to start buyin’ again. Hell, we’re losin’ money from daylight to dark! The water’s alive with salmon. An’ the season’s short. Be a sport, MacRae.”
“Be a sport, eh?” he echoed with a trace of amusement in his tone. “I wonder how many of you would have listened to me if I’d gone around to you a week ago and asked you to give me a sporting chance?”
No one answered. MacRae threw away his half-smoked cigarette. He stood up.
“All right, I’ll buy salmon again,” he said quietly. “And I won’t ask you to give me first call on your catch or a chance to make up some of the money I lost bucking Folly Bay, or anything like that. But I want to tell you something. You know it as well as I do, but I want to jog your memory with it.”
He raised his voice a trifle.
“You fellows know that I’ve always given you a square deal. You aren’t fishing for sport. You’re at this to make a living, to make money if you can. So am I. You are entitled to all you can get. You earn it. You work for it. So am I entitled to what I can make. I work, I take certain chances. Neither of us is getting something for nothing. But there is a limit to what either of us can get. We can’t dodge that. You fellows have been dodging it. Now you have to come back to earth.