“No fisherman can get the prices you have had lately. No cannery can pack salmon at those prices. Sockeye, the finest canning salmon that swims in the sea, is bringing eighty cents on the Fraser. Bluebacks are sixty-five cents at Nanaimo, sixty at Cape Mudge, sixty at the Euclataws.
“I can do a little better than that,” MacRae hesitated a second. “I can pay a little more, because the cannery I’m supplying is satisfied with a little less profit than most. Stubby Abbott is not a hog, and neither am I. I can pay seventy-five cents and make money. I have told you before that it is to your interest as well as mine to keep me running. I will always pay as much as salmon are worth. But I cannot pay more. If your appreciation of Folly Bay’s past kindness to you is so keen that you would rather sell him your fish, why, that’s your privilege.”
“Aw, that’s bunk,” a man called. “You know blamed well we wouldn’t. Not after him blowin’ up like this.”
“How do I know?” MacRae laughed. “If Gower opened up to-morrow again and offered eighty or ninety cents, he’d get the salmon—even if you knew he would make you take thirty once he got you where he wanted you.”
“Would he?” another voice uprose. “The next time a mustard pot gets any salmon from me, it’ll be because there’s no other buyer and no other grounds to fish.”
A growled chorus backed this reckless statement.
“That’s all right,” MacRae said good-naturedly. “I don’t blame you for picking up easy money. Only easy money isn’t always so good as it looks. Fly at it in the morning, and I’ll take the fish at the price I’ve said. If Folly Bay gets into the game again, it’s up to you.”
When the lights were doused and every fisherman was stretched in his bunk, falling asleep to the slow beat of a dead swell breaking in the Cove’s mouth, Vin Ferrara stood up to seek his own bed.
“I wonder,” he said to Jack, “I wonder why Gower shut down at this stage of the game?”
MacRae shook his head. He was wondering that himself.
Some ten days later the Bluebird swung at anchor in the kelp just clear of Poor Man’s Rock. From a speck on the horizon the Blanco grew to full shape, flaring bow and pilot house, walking up the Gulf with a bone in her teeth. She bore down upon her consort, sidled alongside and made fast with lines to the bitts fore and aft. Vin Ferrara threw back his hatch covers. His helper forked up salmon with a picaroon. Vin tossed them across into the Blanco’s hold. At the same time the larger carrier’s short, stout boom swung back and forth, dumping into the Bluebird’s fish pens at each trip a hundred pounds of cracked ice. Presently this work was done, the Bluebird’s salmon transferred to the Blanco, the Bluebird’s pens replenished with four tons of ice.