There came a burst of afternoon westerlies which blew small hurricanes from noon to sundown. But there was always fishing under the broad lee of the cliffs. The Bluebird continued to scuttle from one outlying point to another, and the Blanco wallowed down to Crow Harbor every other day with her hold crammed. When she was not under way and the sea was fit the big carrier rode at anchor in the kelp close by Poor Man’s Rock, convenient for the trollers to come alongside and deliver when they chose. There were squalls that blew up out of nowhere and drove them all to cover. There were days when a dead swell rolled and the trolling boats dipped and swung and pointed their bluff bows skyward as they climbed the green mountains,—for the salmon strike when a sea is on, and a troller runs from heavy weather only when he can no longer handle his gear.
MacRae was much too busy to brood long at a time. The phenomenal run of blueback still held, with here and there the hook-nosed coho coming in stray schools. He had a hundred and forty fishermen to care for in the matter of taking their catch, keeping them supplied with fuel, bringing them foodstuffs such as they desired. The Blanco came up from Vancouver sometimes as heavily loaded as when she went down. But he welcomed the work because it kept him from too intense thinking. He shepherded his seafaring flock for his profit and theirs alike and poured salmon by tens of thousands into the machines at Crow Harbor,—red meat to be preserved in tin cans which in months to come should feed the hungry in the far places of the earth.
MacRae sometimes had the strange fancy of being caught in a vast machine for feeding the world, a machine which did not reckon such factors as pain and sorrow in its remorseless functioning. Men could live without love or ease or content. They could not survive without food.
He came up to Squitty one bright afternoon when the sea was flat and still, unharassed by the westerly. The Cove was empty. All the fleet was scattered over a great area. The Bluebird was somewhere on her rounds. MacRae dropped the Blanco’s hook in the middle of Cradle Bay, a spot he seldom chose for anchorage. But he had a purpose in this. When the bulky carrier swung head to the faint land breeze MacRae was sitting on his berth in the pilot house, glancing over a letter he held in his hand. It was from a land-dealing firm in Vancouver. One paragraph is sufficiently illuminating:
In regard to the purchase of this Squitty Island property we beg to advise you that Mr. Gower, after some correspondence, states distinctly that while he is willing to dispose of this property he will only deal directly with a bona fide purchaser.
We therefore suggest
that you take the matter up with Mr. Gower
MacRae put the sheet back in its envelope. He stared thoughtfully through an open window which gave on shore and cottage. He could see Gower sitting on the porch, the thick bulk of the man clean-cut against the white wall. As he looked he saw Betty go across the untrimmed lawn, up the path that ran along the cliffs, and pass slowly out of sight among the stunted, wind-twisted firs.